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Self-publishing; Is the Stigma Disappearing? Should It?

 

            Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached. Why is this? Mostly because we were taught in school that anything published has been thoroughly checked and edited by “those who knew more than we did, specialists of some kind.” That may have been true of our textbooks, which were written and edited by specialists in their fields.

As we became adults and, at least some of us, became teachers, writers and editors, we tried our hand at publishing and found out how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, let alone land a publishing contract. Some of us continued to butt our heads against that publishing wall until we were, at least, moderately successful. Some gave up, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. The third segment saw the modern availability of publishing technology as a way to go around the traditional publishing roadblock. It afforded low cost publishing (CreateSpace and many others), free way to get public attention (Amazon—you and several million other authors) and you kept all the profit and didn’t have a garage full of inventory and shipping to handle. A sweet deal, right?

Not so fast. You are a specialist in the subject you are writing about, right? You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library, right? (No offense to public libraries here.) You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work, right? You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon, right? You have a brand, right? A what?

Let’s look at these issues in the order they are listed:

  • You are a specialist in the subject about which you are writing. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic about which you are writing unless you a claiming your work to be the final word on the topic. Be sure you acknowledge somewhere your limitations.
  • You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library. There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand—just don’t stop there. Your local librarian will give you suggestions as to where to get more information on your topic. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is there, unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything there, whether or not it is valid.
  • You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work. Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and they have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased to see your work as better than it actually is. Choose someone, better to ask two or three people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism—it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
  • You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon. Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone know your book is there, except your family and friends who have heard you talk about it every chance you get? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.

Your marketing plan will provide a roadmap for you to follow to get attention for your book and should include some or all of the following:

  1. Your website,
  2. Your blog,
  3. Your other social media sites (Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Instagram)
  4. More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards, flyers,
  5. Radio and TV spots,
  6. Other signings and speaking engagements.
  • What is this brand of which you speak? Your brand is your personae as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything in the list immediately above works together to brand you. Acknowledge it, work with it, use it.

Does this sound like more than you are capable of doing? It may be. It is a lot of work. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they used to. It’s a fact of life.

Now, what about the stigma? It isn’t as bad as it once was. Does that mean self-published works are better than they were at one time? Yes and no. Yes, some experienced authors are going the self-publishing route. What they learned from being associated with higher quality editing and their natural maturity as writers has paid off, for them as writers and us as readers.

Yet, in large part, one often can spot a self-published book within the first page or two. Layout is strange, sometimes disjointed with lots of white where there should be print; typos, spelling and grammatical errors appear with distracting regularity. (CreateSpace does not edit the work). Yes, you do see typos in works published by the large publishers but nowhere near as many.

There you have it, my take on self-publishing. You self-publish at your own risk. If you are hoping for the next best seller, better get a large publisher.

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited August/September 2016

Five Ways to Make a Sentence More Concise

Expressing oneself clearly and concisely in speech is a challenge because one has so little time to order one’s thoughts and choose one’s wording carefully, but writing is easily improved with even the briefest review. Always read over what you have written (whether it’s a tweet or a book manuscript) before you distribute or publish it—not only to adhere to the mechanical basics of grammar, syntax, usage, and style but also to check for narrative flow and conciseness. The following sentences, and the discussions and revisions that follow each one, include advice for paring unnecessary words and phrases.

1. As you establish your policies, it is recommended that you develop a comprehensive list of business activities.

When offering recommendations, avoid overly polite entreaties, and simply state the advice as an imperative: “As you establish your policies, develop a comprehensive list of business activities.” (Other words that signal an expendable phrase are advised, suggested, necessary, and imperative.)

2. Nearly all of the processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.

In “all of the” phrases, of is almost always optional, and the can often be safely omitted as well: “Nearly all processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.”

3. IPO activity has increased over the past few years, and that presents a great advantage for the company.

Be alert for opportunities to condense sentences consisting of two independent clauses into a simple statement. Here, what was an introduced observation is recast as an acknowledged phenomenon, changing the subject from “IPO activity” to “the increase in IPO activity”: “The increase in IPO activity over the past few years presents a great advantage for the company.”

4. Organizations can realize tremendous value from risk management in a cost-effective and efficient way.

The presence of way (or manner, or basis, or any similar vague noun) at the end of a sentence signals a sentence in need of abbreviation. Simply dismantle the phrase that ends with the noun and convert the adjectives that precede the noun into adverbs: “Organizations can cost-effectively and efficiently realize tremendous value from risk management.”

5. There are core sets of critical activities and critical communications that must be performed at this stage.

When a sentence or clause begins with an expletive (“There is/are” or “It is/They are”), consider omitting the phrase and beginning the sentence with the noun or noun phrase that follows (and delete the now-extraneous that that follows the subject): “Core sets of critical activities and critical communications must be performed at this stage.”

Taking Conciseness Too Far
Be cautious, however, about overzealous conciseness, as in the case of multiple nouns and noun phrases stacked in a dense swarm of words. Relaxing a sentence can be just as effective as tightening it in improving a sentence:

Overly concise: Executive management and board of directors’ expectations about scalability can be unrealistic.
Relaxed: The expectations of executive management and the board of directors about scalability can be unrealistic.

From: Daily Writing Tips

New Books for Reluctant Readers Coming in July…

My reluctant reader series “The Aquitaine Reluctant Reader Series”
will kick off in July with Book 1, “Looking at the Cat; an Eye on Evolution”, written for kids in Grades 9 – 12 who can read but don’t like to read.
Cat Book Cover-3

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Writing Science for the Public #3

1-It is about the people. Let’s say that your topic is Chlamydia. I know and you know that you can write something perfectly interesting about Chlamydia without mentioning people, but the truth is the article will be more interesting if includes people. Readers want to hear about people. If your story is about Chlamydia, it is really about Chlamydia and people. If you don’t know anyone with Chlamydia find someone who does, or, perhaps less awkwardly, find out who revealed the biological story of Chlamydia (seems to be this amazing and rarely written about fellow–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislaus_von_Prowazek).

2-Your story needs a happening part. If you string together paragraphs of facts, you have not written a story. You have written a textbook and for as much as teachers tell students otherwise, textbooks are boring. Something needs to happen in the story and then either resolve or conspicuously fail to resolve. What happens can be funny. It can be serious. It can be funny and then serious and then funny again, but it has to happen (Conspicuously, I have given this advice in post in which absolutely nothing happens).

3-It is easier to write a simple story. Look, while you are reading this you are thinking of ways around my suggestions. “Oh,” you might think, “I could write a compelling story without mention of people or characters in which absolutely nothing happens. It will be about a rare beetle.” I bet you could. I believe in you. But to do so is to do things the hard way. Just a piece of advice here. If you are just starting in science writing, you might want to avoid always doing things the hard way.

4-Nouns not adjectives. The temptation in writing a story is to use piles of adjectives to describe the beauty, awe, tininess, sublimity, grandness and awkward bumbling of whatever it is you are writing about. Don’t. Use strong nouns and verbs. Write simple sentences.

5—Sound like you. Your voice should be your own. If you are writing what someone else could write, well, you can take it easy and let them do it.

6-Be relevant. Scientists are trained to study marginal topics. Suggest to a PhD candidate that they might focus on a common relevant species and they will, with a natural inevitability, disappear into the rain forest to study something obscure instead. Perhaps it is reasonable for scientists to focus on the obscure; in the margins we hope for big discoveries others missed. It is not reasonable for writers, unless, in that obscure, the reader can see a broader story, a story relevant to millions of people.

7-Tell the readers what they want to know (Pity the reader).Write for the readers. When I talk about ants, people almost always ask, “what should I do about ants in my kitchen?” It took me a decade to realize this was my listener/reader saying, “this is the only way your topic was even remotely interesting to me.” You don’t have to give readers the answers they want, but if the reader has a natural reason for caring about your topic, don’t avoid it. Your goal as a writer is to engage as many people as possible in ways that might affect their lives. This stands in contrast to your goal when writing scientific papers which is, as near as I can figure, to write a paper that appeals to thirty people and, in doing so, avoid affecting them in any real way (lest they give you an unfavorable review).

8-Even if it is not about people, it is about people.

9-If you write about scientists, make them human. This doesn’t mean make them seem ordinary if they are not. Scientists include ordinary people. Now that I’ve said that, let’s be more honest, they also include a fair number of folks incapable of navigating the aisles of the supermarket. Tell it like it is—I know a scientist who walked to work wearing two different shoes and only realized it on the way home (OK, that was me, but I digress)—but even odd scientists have ordinary struggles. By making scientists human you let the readers know scientists have daily struggles, problems buying cars, issues finding the right the schools for their kids. You want your reader to relate to the characters in your story.

10-Know your stuff. You need to know a story better to write about it for the public than you need to do to write about it for scientists. To write about a story for non-scientists you need to capture the big story and explain complex topics in ways intelligible to folks for whom the topics are new. Don’t shy away from complex ideas, but explain them with clarity. Doing this requires you to know the details AND the broad picture. Imagine you are trying to figure out things about the field you are writing about that the experts missed.

11-Tritrophic is not a real word. Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis. That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up.

12-Share your joy. You are writing about science because you like science. Your reader is reading about science because he or she likes science. If you share your joy in a piece of the scientific world the reader may well feel joy too. If they do, they might send you a letter and you will feel joy again (After thinking, “I’ll be dammed, an actual paper letter.).

13-Your story can turn at the end in a way that changes the perspective of the reader. It is a great sensation if, at the end of the story, we see the topic you are writing about in a new light. In a short article, this turn is most easily made in the last paragraph. If you are writing a book, well, you have bigger problems.

14-Delete. Cut mercilessly (says the guy who has just written a 1300 word list). Cut extra words. Cut paragraphs. Be wariest of sentences and paragraphs you love; they have a tendency to stick around even when they don’t help. As Arthur Quiller-Couch said, murder your darlings. Delete whole essays. Winnow. Writing improves with practice and winnowing is part of practice. Fill your trashcans with attempts. Fill them with whole books. Share what is left over, the cut stone of a story, a stone that anyone would agree shines. Then start over, and when you do, remember it is about the people.

Writing Science for the Public

It’s no secret that science has a PR problem. Scientists, it seems, are generally viewed as cold and competent but not warm and trustworthy. According to social psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University, a person’s perceived warmth strongly influences how much they are trusted. This presents a problem for scientists, especially in an era when funding, research impact, and science literacy rely so heavily on communicating effectively with a broader audience. Even when seeming warm and trustworthy could help their message be heard, it can be hard for scientists to shake the “cold and competent” stereotype. The authoritative and unemotional way that scientists are taught to write for journal articles usually is not appropriate when communicating with a general audience. Learning the principles of journalistic nonfiction often requires scientist authors to step away from an academic writing style that has come to feel intuitive. Nevertheless, using these styles can make the scientist’s work more relatable, memorable, and trusted.

Here are some tips:

  1. Write for the readers—Scientists tend to aim their writing toward what they think their colleagues want to read. This is a natural reflex—after all, that’s the audience they’re accustomed to thinking about when they write journal articles and grant proposals. But a scientist’s colleagues will be a minority of the readership of a magazine article. Try to step back, review your own assumptions, and broaden your view of who your audience really is.
  2. Use your audience’s lexicon—Introduce only the terms essential to your story and no more. Even certain words likely to be familiar to readers, like “dynamics” or “mitigate,” should be avoided just because they sound jargony and can have different meanings in different fields. Look for alternatives that are more direct. At the same time, avoid talking down to your audience. Sometimes scientists try too hard to make sure everyone is on board. It sounds like they’re talking to middle schoolers, a big turn-off to most readers.
  3. Your first sentence must be indelible—Leave your impression early. Many academics start with something more like a broader impacts statement or an obvious foundational concept in their field, as they would in a journal article. But if you tell readers something they already know in the first sentence, they are likely to think you have nothing to say that they don’t already know. You risk losing readers right then and there. If your article contains news of major breakthroughs, many of your readers will completely miss it.
  4. Know where you are taking the reader first and then tell themShow them—within the first page, provide them with a story that illustrates what is at stake and sets the scaffolding for your thesis. Your reader is busy and has lots of other things to read. They will not read your article unless you immediately let them know why they should, and fine prose is one of the quickest ways to focus your reader’s attention.
  5. Each subsection and paragraph is a potential pathway into the text for a scanning reader—Each paragraph should introduce an interesting new idea with a topic sentence.
  6. Questions generally make poor topic sentences— Framing the topic as a question can be a hard habit to break. But in narrative nonfiction, posing questions instead of stating the topic outright risks leaving out crucial information, such as who is asking the question, why that individual cares about it, and how it was first raised. Introducing how the line of inquiry arose in the first place is usually an important part of a science story.
  7. Each subsection needs to transition the reader from one idea to the next— As a section concludes it should signal why the next section follows. Transitions are the key.
  8. Stop listing things—just stop!—Try instead to figure out the narrative tying the pieces of a list together. Used profusely in academic and government writing, lists are an efficient way of communicating points or variables. But they’re dry and can be a real slog for a reader. All too easily, they become the place where readers’ eyes will glaze over and they will start flipping to another part of the magazine or return to scanning social media. A more intuitive way to communicate such ideas is to talk about how the objects of the list are connected to one another. It might take an extra sentence or two, but the reader will grasp the concepts more readily and remember them better.
  9. Use the first person—Even though the desire to avoid the first person often comes from a sense of humility, text that is essentially autobiographical but avoids first person doesn’t necessarily sound humble. It just sounds impersonal. Readers will stop reading quickly if they don’t feel connected with the people or places in the story.
  10. If you want people to understand that a problem addressed by your research affects real people, you need to illustrate the problem by telling a story about real people—When scientists rattle off statistics but do not talk about how they connect to people’s lives, they risk coming off as cold and distant. Anecdotes may not have a place in science writing, but they are absolutely essential to journalistic and literary nonfiction.
  11. Avoid passive voice and clunky sentence structures—Although passive voice is not uncommon in scientific journal articles, it sounds distant, abstract, and stuffy. Today’s readers have very little patience for slogging through wordy writing because you’re competing with short communication in the social media.
  12. When you feel you are done writing, don’t just stop in your tracks once you’ve added the last bit of information you’d planned to include—Any article needs a conclusion, but one very different from the kind you might write for a typical journal article. Narrative nonfiction conclusions return to the intrigue, suspense, or line of inquiry the writer established to draw the reader further into the article, providing a sense of closure and wrapping up any loose ends. The conclusion is not just a repetitive summary of everything the article has just said. Try to find some forward-looking insights that show greater context for your work.

Writing an Author’s Business Plan

All authors should have a business plan for every book they write, regardless of whether the author plans to self-publish or pursue traditional publication. In many cases, the business plan can even help to clarify the choice.

Traditional business plans have seven components:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Market strategies
  4. Competitive analysis
  5. Design and development plan
  6. Operations and management plan
  7. Financial factors

The business plan for a book parallels this structure, with a few changes.

First of all, the business plan is not a book proposal. The proposal is a tool non-fiction and some fiction authors use to sell a book “on spec”,  before the book is written. By contrast, a business plan is the author’s personal,  often private, “road map” for writing, marketing, publishing and promoting a work.

Each section of a successful one-book business plan should contain:

Traditional “Executive Summaries” contain a half-page synopsis and summary of a business plan. In many cases, they’re written last, or written first and revised when the rest of the business plan is complete. In the author’s one-book business plan, the executive summary will contain a one-paragraph description of the book itself, along with a description of its genre, target audience, current status and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts.

The Business Description (perhaps better renamed “book description”) contains a longer synopsis of the work – one page, or possibly two.

Marketing Strategies will normally contain three sub-sections or components: pre-release marketing, release week (or “around release”), and marketing efforts after the initial release publicity push.

Competitive Analysis requires the author to look at competing or similar works in the marketplace, analyze why readers will (or should) want the author’s book instead, examine strategies the author can use to maximize advantages and minimize weaknesses, and acknowledge and address potential weaknesses in the work and the marketing plan.

The Development Timeline (a change from the traditional “design and development” label) includes multiple timelines. The first development timeline covers the writing process: the deadlines (contractual or self-imposed) for writing the book. Authors pursuing traditional publication but not yet represented by agents will want a plan and timeline for obtaining representation, whereas independent authors will need a timeline for the production and publishing process. Marketing and appearance timelines may also prove useful, especially for authors with complicated or busy schedules.

In an author’s business plan, the Operations and Management Plan  may be simple or very complex, depending on the level of organization the author needs and the amount of assistance he or she anticipates.

Finally, the author’s business plan must consider various Financial Factors. As with Operations and Management, this may be simple or may be very complex. This is a good place to assemble information about the costs of publishing – traditional or independent – and to create a marketing and travel budget. Solid research here can help the author put valuable marketing dollars into places where they make a positive difference, rather than simply throwing money into a project without knowing whether or not results will follow.

 

When it Makes Sense to Self-publish

A writer, simply put, is one who writes. Everyone who writes on a regular basis is considered a writer whether or not they have ever been published.  An author however, is generally perceived as a writer who has been published. For some writers, it is enough that they write, publishing their work is not their goal. For most writers, however, the goal is to become a published author. The trick is being published. You have many options. Which one should you choose? Let’s look at your options:

A self publisher, is an author who gets a business license, buys the ISBN #s, hires a printing press (print shop/printer) to print the books, than sells the books themselves. The author keeps 100% of the profits, because no one pays royalties; you keep 100% of the copyright (which btw, does not cost a penny). You market the book and distribute the book yourself through local bookstores, a personal website, your blog, and on online bookstores, such as Amazon.com.

Motives for self-publishing

There are a number of reasons that writers choose to self-publish, although one of the most common is that their work is not of interest to a commercial publisher. Publishers must be confident of sales of several thousand copies to take on a book. An otherwise worthy book may not have this potential for any number of reasons:

  • Author wishes to retain complete editorial control over content,
  • Author is unknown and does not have substantial resume,
  • Popular topic but of interest only in a small geographic area or
    addresses an obscure topic in which few people are interested,
  • Content is controversial enough that publishers do not wish to be            associated with it,
  • Author wishes to obtain a larger percentage return from retail sales.

Occasionally authors choose to self-publish for reasons of control, because they want access to their customer list, or because they love the business of publishing. When working with a publisher, an author gives up a degree of editorial control, and sometimes has little input into the design of the book, its distribution, and its marketing. This has been a substantial motivator in the rise of comic book self-publishing. In the late 1970s, creators such as Dave Sim and Wendy and Richard Pini chose—in spite of offers from publishers—to publish their work themselves because they wanted to retain full ownership and control over it, and they believed they could do the job of publishing more effectively than a publisher that did not have an ownership stake in the material. This was facilitated by the development of comic book specialty shops, and the distribution network that serves them, which is more open to small- and self-publisher material than traditional bookstores have been. Numerous cartoonists have followed their example since then, and by the late 1990s, the majority of comics (in terms of titles) were self-published. They remain a small percentage of overall sales, however, with sales of a given book often falling short of 1000 copies. A similar movement took place in the music industry during the same period, coming largely out of the punk rock phenomenon, as some musicians eschewed deals with record labels and published their own recordings.

In addition to the issue of control, some authors with limited markets may also self-publish to obtain a better financial return. Authors in a specialist area may be confident of a certain number of sales but also realize that the maximum number of sales is limited, and wish to maximize their earnings. In this situation authors may risk a significant amount of their own capital to self-publish their own work. This avoids a publisher taking a significant cut of the proceeds and if also self-distributed avoids distribution fees as well. The payoff is a much larger percentage of the sale price being returned as profit.

In recent years, television writer and producer J Michael Straczynski has self published an extremely successful series of books containing his scripts for Babylon 5, his most famous television creation.

Self-publishing is the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers. Although it represents a small percentage of the publishing industry in terms of sales, it has been present in one form or another since the beginning of publishing and has seen an increase in activity with the advancement of publishing technology, including xerography, desktop publishing systems, print on demand, and the World Wide Web. Cultural phenomena such as the punk/DIY movement, the proliferation of media channels, and blogging have contributed to the advancement of self-publishing.

 As a general rule, self publish only if you are writing one of the following:

  • Short story anthology,
  • Book of poems,
  • Technical journal (which will only be read by a 100 or so college professors),
  • Non-fiction niche market (work on an obscure organism),
  • Local history book or local field guide,
  • A play,
  • A memoir or biography of a local ‘celebrity’,
  • Church/business/family cookbook
  • Any book or pamphlet of local interest only.

 

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