Interview with Brian Bischof

Interview with Brian Bischof of

You took the traditional path to self publishing, printing books in quantity on offset. How large an initial print run do you go for, and where does that work out in cost?

Since I'm new to self-publishing, I had doubts whether I would sell any books at all. My first print job (Crystal Reports .NET Programming, ISBN 979-0974953655) was for 1,500 copies. When that sold out, I assumed that the book's life was nearing its end and did another 1,500 print job. I keep underestimating the demand and did this a total of five times. The book is now out of print b/c I'm releasing the update in two months.

The problem with using an offset printer is that I pay approximately $4,000 for setup costs and each book is a couple dollars on top of that. When considering the cost per book, you have to take into account that my books are 500-600 pages. Smaller books would be much cheaper to print (but you still have the $4,000 setup charge)

So I threw away a lot of money by doing too many print runs. If I would have anticipated demand properly, I would have done an initial print job of 5,000 copies and then did one more follow up run of 2 or 3 thousand. Someone told me that having too much demand is a good problem to have. I completely agree, but I cringe when I think about how I threw away $12,000 for no reason.

For my latest book (Crystal Reports Encyclopedia Volume 1, ISBN 978-0974953601), I knew to expect decent success, but it is in a much more competitive field now and one author in particular has dominated for the past five years. The odds that this book would be as successful as the previous was pretty slim. I did a print job of 3,000 copies. It's been out for exactly a year now and I sold 2,000 copies. I'll do a follow up print job of 1,500 or 3,000 copies again in a few months and let it fall out of publication. I'll replace it with a new edition early next year and print 5,000 copies.

I was told that my print costs are a bit on the high side and that there are cheaper offset printers that I could use. I agree, but I learned the hard way that you get what you pay for. My first printer had poor binding and I was getting bad reviews that my books were breaking at the spine. My second printer would repeat a block of pages and leave out another block altogether. More complaints and more headaches. I now use Malloy Printing and they have done a stellar job of printing my best quality books with no errors. I occasionally get emails from Indian printers saying that they can substantially reduce my printing costs via outsourcing. I shudder to think how bad this experience could turn out. Paying extra for a quality print job with worth every dollar.

Your cover designs have certainly evolved over the years. How important to you feel covers are, and do you have any suggestion for author/designers.

My first attempts at a cover design were done with MS Word. They were truly laughable. After doing some research on the web, I found software which lets you design your own book covers. I downloaded the free trial, really liked it, and bought it for $187. It had built-in templates that made designing the cover a breeze. I was really happy with my cover now. I also found many stock photography websites that had great high-res images that I could buy for less than $5 and get full rights to reprint them. Why spend a thousand dollars for a graphic designer when all these cheap tools are on the web?

When I was finished with the cover design, I sent it to my printer for review. They rejected it because there were problems with the software mixing RGB and CMYK colors together. This was a major problem and I had to quit using BookCoverPro and switch to Photoshop b/c it handles CMYK colors great (of course). Unfortunately, BookCoverPro was so simple and Photoshop is one of the hardest programs I ever learned to use. I spent hours Googling for the smallest tip. It was a huge struggle to re-produce my cover with Photoshop. After everything was finalized, I got an update from that they had fixed all the CMYK bugs and that the software was compatible with offset printers now. Great. After struggling through Photoshop and pulling my hair out, I highly recommend BookCoverPro as the easiest way to create professional covers.

A couple tips I have for cover design:

First, don't use competing colors. I thought that my first cover looked pretty good, but after it was printed I realized that the spine had black text on a dark blue background. It looks good on my computer monitor, but on the bookstore shelves I could barely read the book's title. For the second printing I switched the text to yellow so that it really stands out. Be certain that the color scheme of your background image lets the text be clearly read.

Second, use your software to see what the image looks like as a thumbnail. Many people buy books from Amazon and they will only see your book cover as a thumbnail on Amazon's site. Make sure that the title is big enough to read when the cover size is shrunk down to a 1 inch square.

The traditional self publish route requires a distribution deal and warehousing. Can you describe your current setup and how you arrived at it?

I originally sold all my books via Amazon's Advantage program. I was happy to have a way to sell my books, but it was frustrating at the same time. Amazon typically sells books at a 20-30% discount, but this isn't available for authors in the Advantage program. I had to price my books cheaper than my competitor so that I would hit a similar price point without the discount. This cost me a lot of money. Secondly, they are very slow about requesting new orders and my book was consistently out of stock. By accident, I discovered that I could send them more books than they ordered and they would still take them. So I just always shipped more than they wanted and I didn't have any more stocking issues.

I got really tired of going to the post-office every few days and I searched for a distributor. I found out that distributors will only work with people who have a solid sales record. For new authors, this means that you have to start out by selling the books yourself and if you can rank in the top 10,000 on Amazon then they will take you. I don't know if this is a hard and fast rule with every distributor, but it was what I was told at the time.

My distributor is Independent Publishers Group ( because one of their sales teams is focused on the technical book market. They warehouse all my books in Chicago and get them distributed to book stores internationally. They also take care of marketing my books to major chains and at book shows worldwide. They charge 28% of Net. Oh yeah - using them also gets me the standard discount at and I can price my books higher and still be competitive. This helps offset their 28% fee.

I've been very happy with IPG. The only problem I have is that they have very strict requirements for filing new titles and release dates into their system almost nine months in advance (so they can market them for the next year). Personally, I have no idea when I'm going to publish my next book and I have to make all this up. Thus, I never meet any of my publishing deadlines and I keep making changes to the book info. Definitely not good.

The dream of all website owners is recurring revenue, and you're having success publishing some of your work in serial form on a subscription blog. What trade-offs have you encountered in going this route, and do you see it supplanting your paper book sales as a income source in the future?

The hardest part of creating an online membership site for my books was figuring out how to get my existing books onto the web. I have over 1,000 pages in MS Word that I need to convert. I could export them to HTML, but I don't like plain HTML pages. I like the blog format because it gives me a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with my members. They can post comments on each part of the book and I can respond. Having this two-way interaction will be key for keeping customer satisfaction high and getting them to renew their subscription. I looked all over the web for a way to convert Word to WordPress (the blog software). There are a few tools out there, but they are terrible. They lose all your formatting and don't have a way to split a long chapter into multiple blog posts. This was critical for me. Since I'm a geek who writes programming books, I decided to build my own converter. My tool works great and allows me to keep my book in MS Word format and quickly export new content to WordPress. I even debate whether I should sell this tool, but I'm behind on so many projects that I can't imagine adding another one to my plate.

Having my books online via a subscription model has some major benefits. First, of course, is that I make money every month for almost no money out of my pocket besides the basic web hosting fees. You can never go out of stock on the web! Secondly, it opens my market to the entire world because the paperback version of my book isn't available in every country.

The software I use to handle memberships is and I use PayPal to handle the credit card transactions. I spent almost $200 to buy the aMember software and it was money well spent. It makes managing members a piece of cake and they installed the software on my server for me. Sweet! Unfortunately, the built-in reports are terrible. Some of the data isn't accurate and some of the stats just don't make any sense to me (and I build reports for a living). Bad reports aside, I still recommend the software. It doesn't have much competition in this area and there are a ton of features that makes it easy to have a membership site.

I've been disappointed with PayPal for processing my credit card transactions. I found out that many people just don't like paying via PayPal. I have no idea why because you don't need a PayPal membership to complete a transaction. People have emailed me saying that they are simply against using PayPal (for reasons beyond me). When people see the PayPal logo on my site they leave. I'm now looking at replacing PayPal with using They work internationally and they also integrate with the aMember software I use. They charge 14% per transaction (ouch!), but they make it easy to process credit cards and they support recurring charges. looks pretty good, but they don't support recurring transactions and this is key to having long-term revenues. If using CCBill increases my memberships by 30%, then this will more than justify the 14% transaction charge.

Another downfall of having my book on the web is that there is no index. A great technical book has to have an equally great index b/c you need to look things up quickly. On my subscription site I don't have an index. I could add this feature to my converter tool, but it would be an enormous amount of work to perfect it. The blog does have a search feature, but this just doesn't compare to having a well prepared index. So I'm very disappointed that I can't give people an index to make my site easier to use.

I think that putting my books on the web in a blog format is a fantastic way to generate more income from my books. Since I've only had the membership site up for four months, I still have a lot to learn about my users as well as the options available to me. But, it's an exciting process!

Publishing A New Website

I've finally launched a new website, and trying to build it up will be my main occupation for the next three months or until I say "Uncle." While it will be a self publishing website, in the sense that I'll be creating and publishing content, it will also include an element of Web 2.0 social networking, without the "social" part. I'm doing this through a blog that will include embedded YouTube videos of various do-it-yourself repairs and projects, along with my thoughts on the subject. While the blog won't be the main focus of the website (I hope), I'm interested in seeing how a text and video based blog on a wide variety of topics fairs for visitors.

The primary goal of the new website,, will be to promote my interpretation of back-to-basics, though many might see it more as going to ground. For years I've been considering a series of books about financial basics for a future where credit will (hopefully) be limited, and where American may rediscover the old Yankee ethic of using and maintaining what you have until you can't patch it up anymore. While there are a huge number of DIY (Do It Yourself) websites in existence, their focus is largely on restoration or improved performance, rather than cobbling things up to get another six months of service. And when you take into account the expense of fixing something "the right way" it's often difficult to justify the cost versus replacing it with something new.

I've been preaching at both authors and publishers for nearly a decade that starting a website is the most important thing they can do to to get their work in front of the public. But I'm often met with the argument that it's too late, that the Internet is already taken, that launching a site in the Web 2.0 era requires tens of thousands of dollars of investment just in software infrastructure and basic programming. Building a dazzling website with all the modern bells and whistles has never been where I advised publishers to spend their time, and it's sure not on my to-do list. I created the skeleton for my new website in four or five hours, including some original starter content (a flowchart for diagnosing automotive ticking noises), the first few blog posts, and a couple of short videos.

And it's ugly. One of my first visitors pointed out that I had a typo in the newly designed site logo, and that the pages were too wide for some computer monitors. I fixed the logo but only made a minor tweak to the page width issue, I just don't want to get bogged down in aesthetics or even usability issues at this point. My focus will be on developing my own unique content, a mix of text, photographs and videos, that will be compelling enough to the core audience that they will be willing to forgive glitches in the presentation. If the site is successful on those terms, I may well go back and make a major redesign effort based on feedback, but WITHOUT COMPELLING CONTENT, THERE'S NO REASON TO BOTHER.

I didn't hold any staff meetings before publishing the new website, I didn't create a business plan, and I don't have a set budget. The first order of business will be renting a garage or comparable workspace to start shooting videos of various backyard mechanic repairs of my project car and whatever else I can find that needs fixing. Now this is the important part. After a couple months, I'll take a serious look at what's working in terms of drawing visitors and what's not working. Here's where a well founded start-up or a corporation with a business plan would congratulate themselves over ideas that were working and pour their resources into fixing the pages that weren't living up to expectations. And here's where I'll walk away from the ipages that aren't doing well and focus my energy on the efforts that are proven to work, and explore new ideas.

That's one of the things that the Internet has actually changed in the world - how people consume information and entertainment. Telling people what they want and how they want it hasn't proven to be a useful business model on the Internet. You have to respond to the market, and the only way to do that is to get out in front of the market and to see what happens. Don't waste your time and resources trying to launch the perfect website, it's not a book. The important thing is to get started, and as with my recent return to the ebook market, I'll be reporting about the progress of the new website on this blog. The future of self publishing is going the way of multi-media, and when it comes to Do-It-Yourself subjects, I won't be surprised if Internet video entirely supplants most books.

Unregistered Copyrights and Registration Limitations

Everybody in publishing "knows" that copyright protection is automatic with creation, but any publisher who has never read Circular 1 from the copyright office should take the time to do so now. Many small publishers don't bother with copyright registration, which requires filling out a form, writing a check for $45, and submitting a deposit of the work. The reasons vary from the belief that registration is just a form of window dressing to the unwillingness to pay the fee or deal with any governmental entity except under duress. My own view, backed by my own mistakes, is you should register a copyright for any work in which you want to protect your intellectual property rights. The following four points taken directly from Circular 1 (which is in the public domain) help explain why.

1) Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.

2) If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

3) If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

4) Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

Expanding on the points one by one.

1) Without a registered copyright, you can't file suit for copyright infringement. That means if somebody infringes on your work and isn't willing to correct the situation to your satisfaction when you complain, you'll have to register the copyright before you show up on their radar as an actual threat. There may be situations where you can take legal action for some other cause related to the theft, but not for copyright infringement.

2) If you don't register within five years of creating the work, the court doesn't have to recognize the registration you do file as self evident proof. Not being a lawyer, I don't know how a smart lawyer would go about getting such a registration overturned, but it's easy to imagine in the Internet age. For example, somebody sent me a long joke this morning, and out of curiosity, I did a quick search to see if I could figure out where it originated. No such luck, it appeared on a large number of blogs and community sites back in 2007 when it spread like lightning. I wouldn't want to be the lawyer for the plaintiff in 2012 trying to prove that the joke originated with my client. And I wouldn't want to the plaintiff paying for that research.

3) The award of statutory damages and attorney's fees is the big stick in copyright law that prevents most cases from going to trial, less than one percent of infringement suits filed. The statutory damages will likely be less of an expense for the infringer than paying the plaintiff's attorney fees if the case goes as far as trial. Figure on five figures just to get the ball rolling, and six figures if the case ends up going to trial. If the copyright isn't registered three months after publication or before an infringement, that's cash you'll have to pay out of pocket, which is likely to be more than any damages you can hope to recover unless the infringing work was a bestseller or had that much of an impact on your own sales. The exception here is if the infringement was online, in which case the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) may allow you to recover legal costs, if the court decides to award them.

4) If you've registered the copyright, you can appeal to the Customs service to protect you from illegal imports, perhaps from countries where you have no chance of going after the infringer.

If you need to register a copyright in a hurry so you can launch a legal action to seek an injunction against somebody who is destroying your business, the current fee is $685, and you may need to provide proof of pending litigation or Customs complaint in order to get it. But the bottom line is this. In most instances, a registered copyright will ensure that if somebody does infringe on your work, they'll be under tremendous pressure to remedy the situation once they get legal advice. An unregistered copyright might give them pause, or it might give them a chuckle. Depends on the depth of their pockets and their darkness of their souls.

Relentless Promotion vs Intelligent Book Marketing

We all know somebody who is a relentless self promoter, who comments on every discussion list post, haunts every related blog and speaks anyplace that isn't equipped with a giant hook or a suspended ten ton weight. Relentless self promotion works - if your goal is to be known by many and despised by not a few. It's not a bad fit for self publishing, where simply making people aware of your titles is a major challenge. But it's similar to most brute force solutions in that it's rarely as efficient as an intelligent approach, responding to the market rather than trying to shove your book down everybody's throat.

One of the interesting aspects of professional sports for longtime fans is watching coaches adjust their strategies for different opponents, whether mid-game or in multi-game series. Simply going out there and doing what you do best is enough to compete in a neighborhood pick-up game, but it's not enough to win against comparable opponents on an even playing field. Developing flexibility is the main stumbling block for many a self publisher who did well enough with their first title, but fails to recognize that the same approach isn't ideal for all titles. In fact, last year's winning approach may be this year's guaranteed loser.

The sports analogy only holds up so far in self publishing because the challenge is less one overcoming opponents than making new friends. The opposition consists of competing publishers, but there's always room for a new title if it's good, and the competition is about gaining visibility rather than somehow defeating similar titles. Your potential readers are not opponents to be overcome, they are the people you are trying to help or entertain. This is one of the reasons I dislike the practice of gathering e-mail addresses to blast with news of a new book, something that strikes me as an attack on customer privacy. In all my years of publishing, I've never sent an unsolicited e-mail asking somebody to buy a book, despite my direct sales channel providing thousands of customer addresses.

So how can you tell if your efforts to market your book are paying off? By whether or not you are generating sales over time. Nothing else is relevant, not the number of "You're a wonderful human being" e-mails, not the number of media mentions and calls from reporters, not the number of reviews you generate by giving away free copies. If you've written a book featuring walking tours of Central Park, setting up a pushcart (with a permit) at a park entrance and hawking the book to passers-by makes a lot more sense than sending out a mass mailing to public libraries. Finding out what groups have a vested interest in Central Park and speaking to them or sending review copies to their newsletter editors makes a lot more sense than going on a cross-country tour of bookstore signings.

Yes, it will be helpful if your book shows up at the top of the Amazon listings for a search on "Central Park" or if your website places high for related searches on Google, but both of these are passive forms of marketing that may not be best suited to an ultra-niche title. The interesting thing about highly targeted niche titles is that the audiences are often highly concentrated, and can be reached through a small number of physical locations or niche/fan publications and websites. Sticking to your guns and not giving up is a large part of success in any endeavor, but you have to be smart about your book marketing as well. I'll conclude another lazy summer post with a publishing video rerun about selling books through your website:

Top Five Self Publishing Mistakes List for New York City

August is vacation month in publishing, so I thought I go for a New York City type mail-it-in vacation post.

1) Form a Team

Forming a team is a good way to fail in almost any business endeavor, but in self publishing, it's failure by definition. The "self" part of self publishing isn't a marketing gimmick, it's really about you being the publisher. If you put together a team of coaches and advisers and try to come to a consensus, you've got the business model for a government grant or a new academic department, not a publishing business.

2) Write a Memoir

I'd have to guess that more people get involved in self publishing because they've written a memoir that New York isn't interested in publishing than for any other reason. It's a really, really bad reason to start a publishing business, but it's not a bad reason to self publish. You just have to understand up front that memoir isn't a business model unless you are famous or infamous, and ideally, good looking as well. As I just admitted in the comments, I spent quite a bit of time translating my great grandmothers childhood memoir which was published in Hebrew.

3) Hire a New York City Editor

Do not, I repeat, do not hire an editor because she has a New York City mailing address. Even if you should chance to stumble on a good editor that way, you're only paying more to subsidize her big city living expenses and expensive taste in hats. Self publishing is not a game of inches, where the slightest misstep makes the difference between success and failure. Self publishing is a game of miles, where you either get it largely right or largely wrong. Largely right means writing a book that has an audience and establishing a marketing platform that lets you reach that audience. Largely wrong means doing anything else.

4) Invest Heavily in Hats

I'm not talking about a couple of hats to wear to trade shows or handout as thank-you gifts. I'm talking about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a branding effort that's meaningless:

Investing heavily in anything other than your titles and marketing your titles is a waste of money. You don't need a new desk, or a lovely in-home office, and those things aren't write-offs until you succeed in selling books.

5) Blog

New York City has finally discovered blogging as a marketing tool for authors. The reason trade publishers love the idea of authors blogging is that it doesn't cost the trade publishers a dime. Many of the quality bloggers I know in the book business have already give up blogging as a waste of time. Unless you establish a large subscription base, it really is a waste of time because it's an incredibly inefficient way to attract visitors to your website.

So, that's my top five list for self publishing mistakes, and I want you to know I didn't put any time into thinking about it. Aside from the memoir warning, I sure I'm could come up with a gross of worse mistakes, or at least a baker's dozen. But I'm too busy admiring my new hats!