Cathy Teaches Writing

I believe that one of the most fulfilling things you can do is pass on hard-won knowledge. Writing is a difficult business. There is so much to learn and so many dark alleys you can get lost in along the way. With that in mind, I have provided a few articles here to help those who are interested.


Article 1:     What is an Editor and What Do They Do?
Article 2:     What does an Editor look for in a Manuscript?
Article 3:     How does a Publisher decide how much to pay for a manuscript?
Article 4:     Improving your chances to Sell-Through your book.
Article 5:     Beginning the editing process.
Article 6:     Writing to Proposal
Article 7:     What are “subsidiary” deals?
Article 8:     Subsidiary deals — Part 2
Article 9:     What are ISBNs, and what do they mean?
Article 10:    The future of ISBNs.
Article 11:    Do Reviews really matter?
Article 12:    How to get reviews to your readers.
Article 13:    What are the makings of a great press release?
Article 14:    How to make a great press kit!
Article 15:    What are TP, SP, Small, POD Presses, Vanity and Subsidy Publishers?
Article 16:    The Tricks and Traps of Vanity.
Article 17:    Making the List:  What does it take to make it to the bestsellers list?
Article 18:    Points of View.  What are they? How do they work?
Article 19:    Book Review: The Street Smart Writer. YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK!
Article 20:    Marketing vs. Ad/Promo—Who are they and what do they do?
Article 21:    Glossary of Publishing Terms, Acronyms and Abbreviations
Article 22:    Character Profiles
Article 23:    Talking about Talking


Talking about Talking
Understanding Dialogue in Fiction and Non-Fiction
By Cathy Clamp

Many aspiring authors begin writing believing that it will be the narrative or the plot that will be the biggest challenge. Dialogue will be the simple part, right? After all, people talk. We spend our lives doing it, so how hard could it be to just write it down?

Excuse me for a moment so I can stop laughing long enough to finish writing this.

Truth be told, dialogue is quite possibly the most difficult part of any book and it’s because we think we know how that we’re vulnerable to many of the traps. Let’s explore a few of the most common pitfalls:

Pitfall #1: Dialogue tags help the reader understand what the characters are trying to tell them.

Hmm . . . well, first we have to identify that a “dialogue tag” is. The simplest definition is that any time you identify the speaker, you’ve ‘tagged’ the dialogue. Here are some examples of dialogue tags:

“It’s time to go to the store,” Jane said.

“What a great idea,” Bob responded icily.

Simple, or not so simple. Do you see a problem with Bob’s response? The words didn’t match the tag used. Was it sarcasm? Was it a mistake by the author? As a reader, we don’t really know without some more context.  And that’s part of the problem with tags in general, and especially those with adverbs and adjectives attached. They make the reader work for information. If this happened in real life, how would Jane process the conflicting information Bob is giving her if they were face-to-face? She would rely on other signals for clues: facial expressions, body language, rise and fall in intonation.  So you, as the writer, must do the same. The reader is right there with Jane. They need to understand without guessing what Bob is trying to say. Let’s try that again:

“It’s time to go to the store,” Jane said.

Bob’s face twisted, his mouth setting into a sneer. His voice dripped sarcasm. “What a great idea.”

Now there’s no guesswork. Bob very obviously doesn’t think it’s a great idea and the reader is intrigued. Why is the store a bad place? They want to read on to find out more.

Over the centuries, bestselling novelists have used dialogue tags sparingly, instead choosing to use ACTION to convey what tags only hint at. Look at a few well-known, classic authors:

Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK
“Hast seen the White Whale?”
“See you this?” and withdrawing it from the folds that had hidden it, he held up a white arm of sperm whale bone, terminating in a wooden head like a mallet.
“Man  my boat!” Ahab tossed about the oars near him.

Isaac Asimov’s NIGHTFALL
Theremon guffawed. “The Apostles of Flame! Wonderful! So you’re an Apostle too? What a shame, Siferra.”
“Oh!” she stifled a red burst of anger and loathing. “You don’t know how to do anything but mock, do you?”

Bond was beginning to get annoyed. “That’s enough, Mary Ann. Put that report on the printer. I’m sorry, but it’s an order.”
There was resignation in the voice. “Oh, all right. You don’t have to pull rank on me. But don’t get hurt.”

You see how in these passages, dialogue tags were replaced with action that both moved the plot along and conveyed the emotion of the speakers? That’s your goal.

Pitfall #2: Dialogue is just like writing narrative but with quotation marks.

Um . . . no. Just no. Because unless your characters are grammar teachers, what you convey to the reader in dialogue will be worlds apart from your narrative. Let’s look at an example:

Jane picked up her purse. “I think that we should go to the store now. Perhaps later we will come home to clean the house.”

What’s wrong with this bit of dialogue? While it’s grammatically correct it doesn’t sound like a real person is saying it. It’s stilted; awkward. People, at least Americans, simply don’t talk like this. Yes, we know we should speak proper grammar, but we just don’t. So Jane’s wording would probably sound more like this in the real world:

Jane picked up her purse. “Let’s go to the store. And maybe later we’ll clean house.”

Readers want to believe the characters are real people and talk like someone they would know or meet on the street. The author also has to be careful to make the characters sound like individuals so everybody doesn’t sound the same.

Jane picked up her purse. “Let’s go to the store. And maybe later we’ll clean house.”

Bob wrinkled his nose as he grabbed the car keys. “Better yet—maybe we’ll get lucky and aliens will abduct us to a planet where houses clean themselves.”

This banter offers the reader distinct character personalities that they will store as they continue to read.

Important Tip: Real people speak in sentence fragments. Real people start sentences with conjunctions. Annoying, but true.

Another important tip: Remove ‘THAT’ from your dialogue dictionary. It’s the enemy of most dialogue.  “I think that you’re wonderful” becomes “I think you’re wonderful.”  It creates a more enjoyable read.

Pitfall #3: For every bit of dialogue there must be an equal and opposite reaction immediately after the words are spoken.

For some characters this might be true. Every comment must have a response. Some characters are emotionally needy. But others might be self-involved. They’ll ramble for an expanded paragraph, filled with movement and internal thoughts and emotion:

The alcohol was pooling across the cement floor, seeping into cracks and filling the air with a scent that wasn’t anything close to whiskey. He took a breath, and then sniffed carefully, trying to place the scent. It was familiar, but out of context. When it finally hit him, after breaking open the next five gallon barrel, he let out a sound of disgust. “Embalming fluid? God, Smaltore! Tell me you didn’t rob a funeral home to make this moonshine. People could go blind drinking this stuff.” Some days he believed it would just be better to make alcohol legal again. Tightening restrictions on ingredients was only making those who insisted on breaking the law more desperate. “Even the Chicago boys never sunk to this level.” Some  days I wonder if I should have left Chicago. He stared at the two-bit con, wanting a reaction, but Smaltore’s lips just tightened into a thin, immoveable line.

Does this count  as “dialogue?” Aren’t there supposed to be paragraphs after every statement? Are you allowed to write interspersed narrative? Yep. Perfectly acceptable dialogue, just as written. The only time you need to change paragraphs is when you change speakers. If you stay with one person, stay with one paragraph. This counts just as much for fiction as for non-fiction articles, memoirs or stories.

These are just a few tips on managing dialogue. The best source of information is reading books in your genre/category and seeing how others do it. Good luck!


Character Profiles

Something that’s helped me as I’ve started to write novels faster is a Character Profile. While some authors are blessed with having worlds appear in their head fully formed–including plot and people with a whole life experience, schmucks like me are forced to build people from scratch. Someone in a writing chapter suggested that I write up an “interview” with the character, asking them about their life and such . . . as though I was going to write a newspaper article. Well, heck! I write newspaper articles all the time! That sounded pretty good to me. So, I thought about what I would ask if I was really writing an article about someone’s life. I’d want to know the basics of their upbringing, and I’d want to know about the person’s taste and hobbies, and I’d make notes about things I observed when I was talking to them. Anyway, here’s the list of questions I came up with. Maybe it’ll help out some of you!

  1. Character Name.
    2. Siblings? Relationship with parents and siblings? Good/Bad?
    3. Where did character grow up?
    4. Choose three clubs/sports the character was involved in in high school.
    5. What is a quirk (such as spinning hair around a finger when nervous, etc.?)
    6. When decorating an apartment, where would your character shop (Pottery Barn or Wal-Mart?)
    7. What role does money play in your character’s life (is a 20″ b/w TV just as good as a 50″ flat screen?)
    8. What does the character look like?
    9. How do you see the character (i.e., sterotype, caricature)
    10. Possible conflicts in personality (i.e., likes to watch sports, but hates to PLAY them.)
    11. Possible need for change.
    12. Values and beliefs (church-going, would the character steal if starving, etc.)
    13. How beliefs and values clash (would the character steal if sufficient reason? What is that reason?)
    14. What do they need in a mate?
    15. Who is the worst person for them to fall in love with?
    16. What makes the character emotionally dangerous (seeing someone strike a child, etc.?)
    17. What is it about the character that makes it impossible to simply “walk away” from the crisis of the plot?
    18. What does the character most admire about their best friend?
    19. What drives the character insane about their best friend?
    20. How does the plot help the character learn a lesson or grow?
    21. What is the error in thinking during the plot (thought they could trust someone, so didn’t spot danger?)
    22. Why did they think this?
    23. As a result of this mistake, what do they need to learn?
    24. What is keeping them from learning it?
    25. What are the ways the character tries to “cheat” to keep from having to grow?
    26. What event in the external plot forces the character to either grow or change?
    27. What is your character’s greatest fear? (afraid of the dark, commitment, spiders?)
    28. What is your character’s greatest secret?
    29. What is your character’s best childhood memory?
    30. What is your character’s WORST childhood memory?

Next time, we’ll start to talk a little about freelance MAGAZINE writing. I do that too, and some people might enjoy how it differs from novels.


Glossary of Publishing Terms, Acronyms and Abbreviations

New authors are often confused by acronyms and abbreviations used by publishing houses, agents and other writers. So, for you beginning writers, here are a few of the common terms that you’ll hear as you start the process of publishing your book or story:

Advance: Money paid to an author by a publisher before a book is published and purchased by the public. It’s usually paid in installments during the course of creation of the book (i.e., part on contract signing, part on delivery of the manuscript and part on publication.)

Agent: A person or company which acts as a liaison between the author and the publishing house for a fee based on sales of the book. Money is NOT paid to the agent until money is received FROM the publisher. Never use an agent who requests up-front money from the author.

ARC: An acronym for “Advance Reading Copy” or “Advance Review Copy.” This is a book that has been through editing, and occasionally copy editing, but may contain some errors and isn’t yet available for sale to the public. They are usually printed several months in advance of publication to send to magazine and on-line reviewers so the book can be read and the review prepared in time for the release date.

Auction: When a book is sent out to various publishers and more than one is interested, the agent will start the publishers bidding against each other for the privilege of publishing the book. The agent will look for the best money and the best overall contract terms to decide the winner. The author gets the final say in where the book winds up.

Backlist: An author’s list of books that were not published in the current season (usually based on calendar year or quarter) but are still in print.

Bio: Abbreviation for biography. A brief paragraph about the author.

Boilerplate: A standardized contract presented by a publisher to an author. Usually, a boilerplate requires changes to clauses that could be detrimental to the author before signing.

Category: For romance, this term means the books published by publishers Harlequin, Silhouette and Zebra that are part of an established world or series. Like dairy products, they have a shelf life and are usually shorter than single title books. Short category generally runs from 50,000 to 60,000 words, while long category can be anywhere from 65,000 to 85,000 words.

Copyediting: Editing a manuscript for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, rather than subject content, plot or characterization.

Copyright: A way to protect the work of an author by registering with an office of the government of the country where the author lives. Copyrighting is NOT required to occur before submitting to an agent or a publisher. An unpublished manuscript is protected from the moment it is created in printed or virtual form. You can read more about your rights on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website, at:

Cover Approval: A contract term in a publishing contract that allows the author to approve cover art for their book. While highly prized, it’s seldom agreed to by publishers unless the author shows an aptitude for art and marketing savvy.

Cover Consultation: Another contract term that provides that the author have INPUT into the cover’s design (suggesting minor changes that could increase buyer purchases,) but final approval rests with the publisher. Also highly prized by authors, but seldom allowed.

Cover letter: A brief letter which accompanies a manuscript, which gives your name, mailing address, email address and phone number. This is NOT a query letter.

CV: An acronym for “Curriculum vita.” This is a Latin term that is more than a bio. It’s more similar to a job resume. It is a brief listing of publications of the author and other writing credentials.

D&A: An abbreviation of “Delivery and Acceptance,” usually referring to a manuscript. This does NOT mean what an author would normally expect. In publishing, delivery and acceptance of a manuscript means AFTER initial delivery of the manuscript, and AFTER editing of the manuscript has been COMPLETED to the editor’s satisfaction. This can be many months after initial delivery, depending on the edits required. It’s also important to note that if edits are not completed to the editor’s satisfaction, the publication may be cancelled at the publisher’s discretion and no further advances need be paid.

Earn Out: Same as “sell-through.” When a book sells enough copies to have the individual royalties per book repay the advance to the publisher. A fast earn-out of a title is a good sales point for a second book to the same or to another publisher. The author “earns-out.” The book “sells-through.”

Edition: An edition of a book generally refers to format. There can be a hardback edition, a mass market edition, a book club edition, an audio book edition, etc. Occasionally, a “same-format” second (or third) edition will occur when a major change occurs, from changing the price to a discounted version, or reprinting an old, out-of-print title at the current format price. Often, a new edition will bear a new ISBN on the face, but that could soon change with the updated EAN-13 number, which will allow for a “permanent ISBN” that follows minor changes in the same format.

Exclusive Reading/Viewing: A publisher who is interested in a book will sometimes request an “exclusive” viewing of the full manuscript. This means that they do not want any other publisher to be reading it at the same time. It’s important for the author, if they wish to allow this, to limit the time an editor/agent has exclusive use of the manuscript. It shouldn’t be out of the marketplace for more than 2-3 months.

Frontlist: 1) Opposite of backlist. This is a publisher’s list of CURRENT books in their catalogue; and 2) The lead titles of best selling authors (depending on use in context.)

Galleys: A typeset version of the final manuscript. It is often created for the author and editor to check one last time for typographical or other errors before being sent to the printer.

Hardcover: A type of book which produces a larger sized product with a pressed cardboard cover. It often uses pressed, finished paper for the pages, rather than pulp paper.

Imprint: The name applied to a publisher’s line of books of a particular genre or style. “Tor” and “Forge” are imprint names of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

Lead Author: A lead author of a publisher is usually a best-seller with a first print run in excess of 250,000 copies. The “super-lead” generally has more than one million copies in a first print run. J.K. Rowling is Scholastic’s super-lead author.

Lead time: The time between acquisition of a manuscript and the date of release.

Line Editing: Sometimes called “content editing,” this is when an editor will make recommendations about the plot, timeline and characters in order to speed up, slow down or smooth out the book. It can entail removing subplots, changing a character’s motivation for taking an action or inserting/deleting elements in the timeline of the book.

Mandated Publication: A clause in a publishing contract. “Mandated publication” means that the publisher mustpublish the book within a reasonable time (often 18 or 24 months from contract signing) or return the rights to the author free of charge. Frequently, any advances paid to the author to that point would be retained by the author as damages. In a multi-book contract, it usually only applies to the specific book not published, and the remainder of the contract remains in force.

Mass market: Literally, it means books of wide appeal that are directed toward a large, national audience. By application, it’s the size and construction of a book which is generally 6-3/4″ x 4-1/4″ and contains pulp paper in a perfect binding

Midlist: Titles on a publisher’s list that are expected to sell through their advance, but not be major sellers.

Multiple submissions: Sending out more than one book idea to an agent/publisher at the same time.

Novella: A short novel or long story, usually defined as being between 7,000 to 20,000 words.

Pen Name: Also called a pseudonym, many authors prefer not to have their given name on the book’s cover. However, contracts are entered in the given, legal name of the author.

Pre-empt: The stuff of dreams to an author. In an auction, a publisher who is hot to get a book will offer an obscene amount of up-front money in order to stop all bidding and make an immediate deal.

Print Run: Major publishers use a method of producing a book that involves an offset press, which prints and binds many copies of the book all at one time. The first print run of a new title is based on orders from distributors, wholesalers and secondary markets, plus an additional quantity that is kept in the warehouse for re-orders. The more copies ordered, the less expensive each individual book will cost the publisher, because each time a printer starts the press, there is additional cost. The number of books produced in the first print run often determines whether an author is a mid-list or lead author.

Proofreading: Careful reading and correction of errors in a manuscript.

Query: A letter that SELLS a book idea to a publisher or agent. The letter is generally no more than one page, contains contact information, a short summary of the plot, and requests permission to send either a synopsis or a full manuscript of the book.

Remainders: Copies of a book that were slow to sell on the shelf and the publisher sells to discount outlets for a fraction of the initial price.

Returns: Copies of a book that didn’t sell at all in a particular store. The store sends back the book to the publisher (or the cover of the book, in the case of paperbacks) for credit against their invoice.

Royalties, net sales: A royalty is the percentage of the sales of the book that is paid to the author. The royalties will vary depending on the form of the book (mass paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio, electronic, etc.,) or the method of sale (high discount, direct sales, premium sales and remainder sales), and can increase within a form if sales are very good. There are two ways to determine how much the author is entitled to, and it’s VERY important that you know which one your publisher is using. One way is to give the author a percentage (let’s say 6%) on thenet price. The net price is the retail price of the book, less the costs to produce it. So, from the $6.99, the publisher would remove 10¢ for the cost of paper and ink, remove 9¢ for the salaries of the publisher and staff, another 1¢ for insurance and equipment leases, etc., etc. So, instead of receiving 42¢, the author will receive 22¢ on each book sold. Often, a publisher offsets this deduction by increasing the percentage, guaranteeing that if sales are good, the author will benefit, and the publisher will still get their costs paid. However, if a contract is based on net sales, it’s important for the author to know what costs will be removed from the book’s list price before royalties are paid.

Royalties, list price: The author’s percentage (again, we’ll use 6%) of the list price or retail price of the book. So, a paperback selling for $6.99 would give the author 42¢ on every book sold.

SASE: Self-addressed, stamped envelope. This envelope should be included with any query or full manuscript for the editor/agent’s use in replying. It should have a return address (yours), a mailing address (yours) and proper postage to get from the publisher back to you. It’s very important to ensure that you apply the postage of other countries if you’re approaching the publisher from a different country from yours. Ask your postal agent if you have any questions.

Secondary Markets: A secondary market in publishing refers to stores and locations which don’t sell books as their PRIMARY business. Wal-Mart, Target, and airport gift stores are examples of secondary markets. Secondary market orders often account for 1/3 to 1/2 of first print run orders, but returns of unsold copies can be as high as 50%.

Sell-through: 1) When a book sells enough copies to have the individual royalties per book repay the advance to the publisher. A fast sell-through of a title is a good sales point for a second book to the same or to another publisher; and 2) When a book’s first print run is all sold to bookstores and a second print run must be ordered.

Simultaneous submissions: Sending out queries for a single book to more than one editor/agent at a time. Many publishing houses refuse to consider simultaneous submissions.

Single Title: A single title romance is one that is a stand-alone world or story, rather than part of an established world or series in a category. A single title book is often longer at 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Slush pile: A stack of unsolicited manuscripts at a publishing house or agency. While the slush submissions are most always read, it is a slow process, and an author should be prepared to wait for many months for a response.

Subsidiary Rights: Any right in a novel that is less than the first publisher’s claim to print and sell the book (called the “primary right”) is known as a “secondary,” “serial,” or “subsidiary” right. Many authors have heard of audio books, eBooks, book clubs, foreign editions and movies based on a novel. These are all subsidiary rights, and an author (or agent) who knows their stuff can ensure that the lion’s share of the profit from the sale of these rights will go to the author. But it’s important to consider whether you have the ability to deal with the right, too. You can keep the audio rights, for example, but they will do you little good if you don’t know how to sell them. Some authors happily allow the publisher to keep the subsidiary rights, because it’s in the publisher’s best interest to make as much money from your book as possible, so they will sell any right possible. Naturally, this also benefits the author, who will either earn a flat fee for the sale of foreign rights or audio rights, or will earn a royalty percentage.

Subsidy Publisher: A publisher who charges an author to publish a book or charges a higher than normal price for a book to the buying public, rather than a royalty publisher, who pays the author for the privilege of publishing the book. Some of these publishers are also called “vanity” publishers, because they prey on a writer’s wish to be a published author without the time and effort of finding a commercial publishing house.

Synopsis: A summary of a book, often 2-5 pages long, which describes the plot, the characters and the resolution of the book.

Trade Paperback: A trade paperback book is a product between a mass market paperback and hardback. It uses the better quality paper of hardback, but the soft cover of mass market. The size is usually 6″ x 9″.

Unsolicited manuscript: A book that an editor did not specifically request to see.


MARKETING vs. AD/PROMO—Who are they and what do

they do?

Authors who have finally gotten accepted for publication often get confused by the way publishing houses do business. They’ve heard for years that “publishers don’t market your books” and “you’ll have to do your own promotion.” It’s one of the ways subsidy (vanity) publishers suck you into their net of lies. It’s important for an aspiring author to understand just what a publisher does to sell a book and who does the work.

Your Book’s Marketing Team – A marketing department for a publisher does the advance work to sell the book to their customers. But aspiring authors are often confused in thinking that the PUBLIC is the customer of the publisher. They’re not–except in the case of direct sales, like a book club. No, the bookstore, distributors and wholesalers are the true customers of the publisher, and the marketing team works VERY hard to sell the book to them. It’s marketing that makes the catalogues of titles to send to the buyers for chains, independent stores, distributors and wholesalers.

One quick definition would be useful here. A wholesaler and a distributor are two entirely different things. Awholesaler is like Wal-Mart. Anyone and everyone is welcome to purchase things there and they don’t care one whit about your background or intentions for the product, so long as the check/credit card clears.

A distributor is like Sam’s Club. It’s by invitation only, and only members can shop. Chains and independent stores often contract with (read: pay for) a distributor to stock their shelves. It’s like having a personal shopper who knows what you want. You can tell your personal shopper that you want ten mystery titles, twenty romances, a dozen science fiction and the rest mainstream, and the shopper will show up at your doorstep with a bunch of boxes. One important thing to keep in mind is that once under contract, a bookstore often CANNOT purchase from anyone else. It’s in the contract, which is often exclusive. So, even if a book is available through a wholesaler, they often can’t purchase it if their distributor doesn’t carry the title. Just an FYI.

Okay, back to marketing.

Distributor, wholesaler and bookstore (usually chains who have their own staff) representatives meet with the marketing department and hear “pitches” about the books in a line for a quarter. They’ll get to see the cover art (when available) and be given promo packages about the books that stir interest.

Marketing is responsible for making as many sales as possible, because it’s through the ORDERS by the distributors, wholesalers and other book buyers that the initial press run is determined. If marketing does their job well, orders will be high, and the press run will be large.  So, they meet with many, many book buyers every quarter, and spent a lot of time looking for just the right cover to “grab” the buyer, writing blurbs and log lines and other items to jumpstart sales. Once the press run is ordered, most of marketing’s work is done. Their budget is often shared jointly by a line of books, because they’re pushing ALL of the books.

Next, in steps in Ad/Promo.  The Advertising and Promotions department of the publisher deals with the PUBLIC. They’re the ones who design print ads, schedule book tours, order pens and keychains and emery boards with the names of the book or line, set up interviews for the authors, prepare press releases, etc. This is often what authors think of as “marketing” even though it has little to do with what marketing does. Promotion budgets are limited by the P&L (profit and loss statement) for an individual title, and they do as much as they can with the money available for that book. Sometimes, they can “co-op” advertising in stores, where they pitch in dollars for product placement such as end caps, facing-out the cover (instead of showing the spine,) appearing in bookstore in-house literature such as “upcoming release” flyers, and such. But for a new author, these funds are limited unless the editor and publisher have decided the book has bestseller potential, so THIS is where authors often have to help out. Often, the author doesn’t realize that items/resources are available to them, so they forget or feel uncomfortable asking what is available. Quite often, ad/promo has “goodies” like pens and such that they are happy to send to the author for distribution, and sometimes the artists will design print ads or flyers that the author pays to insert, saving at least partof the cost.  Ad/Promo works VERY hard and gets little credit for their work, because so much of it isn’t in the public eye since they’re approaching the bookstores to promote. Again, the bookstore is part of the chain. The more visible a title is in the store, the better the chance it will sell to the public.

Unfortunately, so many authors believe that if there aren’t display ads in magazines or newspapers, the publisher is falling down on the job. It’s just not true. Promotion of books is like an iceberg (and I’m stealing this terrific analogy from Patrick & Teresa Nielson-Hayden’s “Making Light” Slushkiller blog. They’re editors at Tor Books, and their blog should be required reading for aspiring authors, along with Miss Snark.) The public only sees the tiny bit on top. 90% of the iceberg is below the surface where the author doesn’t see.



BOOK REVIEW: The Street Smart Writer, Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Publishing World

by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven

I don’t often recommend books on writing, but aspiring authors NEED this new guide!  Recently, a book came to my attention, called “The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World.”  It’s by Jenna Glatzer, a multi-published author in fiction and non-fiction, plus she’s a ghost writer of lots of other books that don’t have her name on the front.  She’s the creator and owner of the author advocacy forum.  Anyone wishing to check her credentials can wander to the bookstore to see her new authorized biography of Celine Dion called “Celine Dion: For Keeps” (on the shelf now).  She wrote The Street Smart Writer with Daniel Steven, a publishing law attorney, for the sole purpose of helping beginning authors wade through the tide of scams, sharks and phony contests.

If you are just beginning your writing career, YOU NEED THIS BOOK!

Let me give you a quick run-down of the contents, just so you can see why it’s so important:

Chapter 1: Agents and Managers: Hone Your Shark-Spotting Skills

Chapter 2: Agents and Managers: How to Spot a Good One

Chapter 3: Paying to Publish: Vanity and Subsidy Presses

Chapter 4: What to Do if You’ve been Screwed (by one of the above)

Chapter 5: Trouble Spots in Book Contracts

Chapter 6: After-Publication Rip offs for Book Authors

Chapter 7: Vanity Poetry Contests

Chapter 8: Deceptive Contests for Novelists, Story and Screenwriters and Others

Chapter 9: Crash Course in Copyright

Chapter 10: Special Screw-Overs for Screenwriters

Chapter 11: Monstrous Magazines and E-zines

Chapter 12: Dealing with Deadbeats

Chapter 13: Costly Courses and Shady Seminars

Chapter 14: How to Know When They’re Really Using You

Chapter 15: Spotting False Credentials

Chapter 16: Protecting Yourself from Threats and Lawsuits

Chapter 17: “They Stole My Idea!” And Other Things NOT to Worry About

The Appendix contains a sample Literary Agency Agreement, an Interview Release, Permissions Agreement, Contributor’s Agreement, Trade Publishing Agreement, Film Option and Literary Purchase Agreement, so you can know what a GOOD one looks like!   I really can’t say enough about this book as an honest, forthright source of the collected wisdom of a dozen people (agents, editors, authors) that she’s polled and interviewed for the information.  Since it’s co-written by a publishing attorney, it’s factual.  It’s written in an easy to understand manner, and gives lots of resources so you can learn how and WHERE to check out an agent, or a publisher to see if they’re good, and how to understand how the publishing game works.


Buy it if you can, or ask your library to order it.  Here’s the info:

Title: The Street Smart Writer

Authors: Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven

Publisher: Nomad Press

ISBN: 0-9749344-4-5

Price: $16.95/$22.95 Canada  

It’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself!  Good luck with your careers!




Beginning writers often have problems with points of view (POV).  Because you’re thinking about multiple people in a story or book, it’s easy to get confused on who is thinking and saying what.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with switching POVs.  Authors do it all the time.  No, when critiquers, agents or editors look at a manuscript with POV problems, it’s usually because the writer is switching TOO often or in the WRONG place.  This is referred to as “head hopping,” and can quickly get your story — regardless of how good a plot it has — rejected.

So, how do you know what POVs will work for you?  How do you know which one you’re writing right now? How many POVs can you successfully integrate into your WIP (Work in Progress)?

Well, for a short story, two to three is pretty much the most that you can successfully sustain. Novels can handle three to five, and sometimes up to eight (but that’s tricky unless it’s epic length.) Here are the primary types of POV, to help you know which one you write.

First Person Point of View: This is very simple. “I went to the store. Afterward, I drove home.” You’re writing through the eyes of ONE person, and one person only. Nobody else gets to play.

Third Person (Limited) Point of View: This is the most common form of story. You’re speaking through the characters, but NOT using “I went to….” Instead, you’re saying “Bob went to….” Third Limited is where a lot of people accidentally switch POVs mid-stream.

Third Person (Omniscient) Point of View: A lot of people confuse the word “omniscient” with “omnipotent”, and for a very good reason. In Third Omniscient, you’re GOD! You’re telling an overview of the story through mechanisms that aren’t available in Third Limited.

Here’s a little exercise I wrote up to help you see the difference between them, and what happens when you mix them up:


Omniscient third person:

Bob opened the front door and there stood Tammy. Earlier he had been thinking about just this scenario, and last night as well. He took her into his arms and kissed her, enjoying the sensation of her fingers through his hair. Tammy fought not to tell him about her affair with Antonio last week. Antonio had only wanted her body, but Tammy didn’t know it, so her guilt was misplaced as she returned Bob’s kiss.

The bolded portion is how you KNOW this is Third Omniscient. If Tammy doesn’t know, and Bob doesn’t know, then the narrator — GOD — is telling the reader this is true.

Limited third person (Bob):

The doorbell rang for the third time before Bob could get there. He turned the knob and felt his breath catch in his throat. Tammy looked radiant with the sun behind her, setting her red hair on fire.

“What are you doing here? I thought you—” She looked contrite, but he couldn’t understand why. Her fingernails tapped on her faded blue jeans.

“I wanted to see you.” The words were soft and sounded nearly embarrassed, but he didn’t care why. She was here and God, how he needed her!

He released the door knob and stepped into the doorway, gathered her into his arms and kissed her gently. She responded with near desperation and it set his mind on fire. He leaned into her, tightened his arms around her and let himself revel in the taste of the flavored lip gloss that reminded him of cherry cough drops. The feeling of her fingers running through his hair reminded him of his dream last night, and part of him wondered whether this WAS a dream. But if it was, he never wanted it to end.

Limited third person (Tammy):

Tammy pressed the doorbell one last time. Maybe he wasn’t home. She hoped he wasn’t home. But her heart wanted him to answer, to forgive her and take her back. It wasn’t fair to Bob to come here out of guilt, but only being with Antonio had made her realize how much she loved Bob.

She looked up frantically as the door opened. Bob looked stunned. “What are you doing here? I thought you—”

She couldn’t look him in the eyes. God! Why had she even thought this might work? Her gaze lowered until his black cowboy boots filled her vision and her fingernails tapped against her jeans as she fought not to just throw herself into his arms. “I wanted to see you.”

She heard a sound and then she was just suddenly in his embrace. He leaned in and kissed her gently, his lips tasting her. It was too much. She couldn’t stand it anymore and she threw herself against him, pulling him closer and opening his mouth with hers. Even if he never forgave her for Antonio, she needed to feel this one last time. She needed him to know that he was the one she WANTED.

Mixed Limited POV:

The doorbell rang for the third time before Bob could get there. He turned the knob and felt his breath catch in his throat. Tammy’s heart had wanted him to answer, to forgive her and take her back. It wasn’t fair to Bob to come here out of guilt, but she was here.

“What are you doing here? I thought you—” Bob was ecstatic to see her, but feared for his heart if he gave into what he was feeling. Tammy’s pulse pounded as she looked at his confused expression.

“I wanted to see you.” She was massively embarrassed, but she didn’t care. She needed him, and God, how he needed her!

Now, you can see what happens if you mix these points of view. You end up wondering who is thinking what. Does Bob somehow KNOW that Tammy had hoped he would answer the door? How could he? Since they both want each other, the reader is going to quickly get confused by this back and forth. Did Tammy know that Bob needed her? Again, how?

Generally speaking, you should wait for a scene break to switch points of view, and designate the switch with an extra line or a hash mark (#) between the scenes. You can also use chapter breaks to switch, but few short stories have chapter breaks. If you find that you’re having a hard time staying in one POV, try writing the same scene from first person in the character you’ve chosen to write in. I find that really helps me focus on what THAT person is feeling and doing. Then I can go back to third person and incorporate the emotions and sensations quite a bit easier.




Every author wants to be named a New York Times Best Seller!  But what does that really mean?  How many books do you need to sell to make it onto a Bestseller’s LIST? Well, it depends on the list. But, first — let’s talk about what the lists ARE.

There are any number of best selling lists that the public and the booksellers/libraries rely on to up-shelve the books to bestseller racks. Here are a few common ones:

New York Times Top 10

New York Times “Extended” Top 35

USA Today Top 150

BookScan Top 100

Publisher’s Weekly Top 25

BookPage Top 50

FictionWise Top 10 (e-books)

In-chain Top 25 (Waldenbooks, Borders, Barnes & Noble) (sales rank/bestseller)

Barnes & (sales rank/bestseller)

Of course, this doesn’t count local metro newspapers, etc. They count too, but most people think of the above names when they think of the lists.

So, how does an author get a book onto the list. Is it just a matter of sales? Well, yes and no. Most people assume that “selling” they mean are sales from the publisher to the PUBLIC. But not every list counts those sales. Some of them count the sales from the publisher to the BOOKSTORE. But more about that later.

First, to make it onto ANY of the lists, you must have a “spike sale”. A spike sale is where a large quantity of books is ordered all at the same time. So if you are regularly selling 20 books a day — no matter how many days you do it, you’ll never make the list. But, if you sell 1,000 books for the first two days and then 20 a day thereafter, you’ll probably make one or more lists, because of the spike.

So, how many does it take? Well, that’s a closely guarded secret, but I know a few of them, just because I’ve been watching the trends very carefully. Here you go:

New York Times Top 10

The New York Times list is the most prestigious list to make it onto, because the competition is so stiff. The main list lets any genre onto it. So, The Da Vinci Code might well be competing with Bill Clinton’s My Life, while on other lists they would be separated into fiction and non-fiction. To make it to the top ten list, spike sales must reach (I believe) above 50,000 in a single week. I’ll be using number to make it to the BOTTOM of the list, since after that, the numbers vary widely. Now, one important thing to note is that there are different KINDS of “sales.” The NYTimes list is based on the OPINIONS of booksellers, not sales to the public, nor even orders by the bookstore. This list is as close to a popularity contest as you’ll find. Who are customers talking about? What books are they asking for?  This is why you’ll often see a book make the NYTimeslist when it hasn’t yet been released to the public–such as a Harry Potter book. Most books hit the NYTimes list in the week AFTER release, because it’s often then that people start “talking.” In addition, the NYTimes selects key bookstores all over the country and sends them a list of “pre-selected” titles to listen for in the public discussions. Now, a bookstore manager CAN add a title to the list, if something is really being talked up, but usually, only the books that are being “tracked” by the newspaper are counted. So, it’s a big deal to an author if the NYTimes has started to “track sales” because it means the title, or author, is one step closer to making the list.

New York Times “Extended” Top 35

The NYT Extended list actually only shows those books from 11-35. They’re usually referred to as “also selling well” when you see the list in the paper. The Extended list splits out the formats, showing hardbacks competing with other hardbacks and trade paperback with other trade, etc. Making the Extended list for a week is considered exceptional, because most of the top ten have made national news for some reason and regular titles seldom are lucky enough to spike enough to make it. To make the Extended list, sales must reach 25,000 in a week.

USA Today Top 150

A lot of people recognize the USA Today list. Now, the USAT is based on sales directly to the public, and is known as a “point of sale” list. Every cash register ring is added to the overall total. Like the NYT list, it merges genres, but also merges formats, so that all titles compete, whether mass paperback, trade paperback or hardback. Most often, hardback books make the NYTimes list. To make the USA Today list, you need to sell around 7,500 copies in a single week to make it onto the list of 150. To make it to the top 50, sales need to be above 10,000 (and it depends drastically on the week of release and time of year–it will take MANY more copies of a title to make the list at, say, Christmastime, when the Grinch and Polar Express are competitors.)

BookScan Top 100

BookScan is an industry tracking system available to publishers only. The general public will seldom if ever see this list. The Top 100 are broken down into specific genres, so that romance will not compete with mystery. To make the Top 100 list, you must sell approximately 950 books in a week.  BookScan is a point of sale list.

Publisher’s Weekly Top 25

The PW Top 25 is again, geared toward the publishing industry. The public will see the list only if they subscribe to the magazine, and most individuals don’t. I believe to make the PW list (again guessing based on hearing other authors talk) that you have to have sold 10,000 in a week. I’m not certain whether PW is a bookstore sales or point of sale list. I’ll try to find out.

BookPage Top 50

BookPage is a industry journal to libraries. They indicate how many books are sold within the library community. Usually, a library will only buy one or two books for their collection, so the numbers here are quite a bit lower. I believe that to make the BookPage list, a book must have sold 5,000 nationwide. Of course, that’s a LOT of libraries!

FictionWise Top 10 (e-books)

FictionWise is a direct-to-public location to buy e-books and small press titles from a variety of publishers, self-published and POD authors. I don’t know what the requirement is for this list. I’ll ask around. Bestseller Top 10

This list is a bit tricky, and I haven’t been able to find much about the requirements. But from what I HAVE read, it seems that to make the Top 100 in ranking for an hour, the title must have sold 1,000 copies in the previous 24 hours, and at least 100 during the previous hour. I would then presume that to make the Top 10, sales would have to be much higher — perhaps selling 5,000 in 24 hours and 500 the previous hour. But I could be wrong. Nobody but Amazon knows for sure. All of the Amazon lists are hourly, rather than weekly, so it’s very roller coaster-ish.

Barnes & Top 25

See Amazon explanation. Nobody knows for sure. Our book has been at the 5,000 mark for nearly six months, and as we understand it, that means that 25 books are being sold per week. I don’t know what it takes to make it to the Top 25. The highest rank we made was 427 for 24 hours, but I don’t know how that translates to real sales.

Next week, we’re back to discussing writing!  Have you ever wondered what points of view are and how to make them work for you?



Every writer wants to see their written word in print.  Most writers want to be paid for the fruits of their creativity.  But sometimes, a person has tried and tried for years without success to find a publisher, or the writer expects to be published from the moment they put pen to paper, and frustration sets in.  That frustration is the sound of a cash register ringing to an unscrupulous publisher.  So, what sort of catch-phrases should you watch for?  What tricks will they use to try to get you to open your wallet?  Read and learn…

  1. We’re looking for writers! This is the first warning sign, and it’s often coupled with phrases like “mainstream publisher seeking authors with a fresh voice,” “the diamond-in-the-rough author is our passion,” “seeking writers with exceptional talent,” “we provide a haven for unknown authors,” or my personal favorite, “actively searching for undiscovered masters of the written word.” Here’s the truth:  Commercial book publishers (those who sell books to earn their living) have no need to advertise.  They’re inundated every day with submissions. So if you read an advertisement in a magazine, on the web, or in a newspaper, don’t answer it.
  2. We want to help authors get their books published! This is the “We’re your friend.  We only want to help.” ploy.  Publishing is a business, pure and simple.  A commercial publisher wants to make money from the sale of your book.  They want a strong working relationship between equals — you as the writer, and them as the producer.  They don’t want to be your friend, and you shouldn’t want them to be.
  3. Get your writing noticed! Of course you want to get your writing noticed.  Duh!  It’s why you went looking for a publisher.  This is a sales pitch, pure and simple.  Again, good publishers don’t need to advertise.
  4. Every manuscript receives quality editing! Does it seem strange to you that a book publisher would even think to mention this?  It should.  Commercial publishers have a full staff of editors, who handle different things within a manuscript, as stated below in Article 1. So, if a publisher says this in their sales pitch, consider it a warning sign. Watch for terms such as “manuscripts requiring substantial mechanical or line editing will be rejected.”  Line editingis commonly called “copy editing” and is one of the the primary forms of editing that exists.  It means that the editor is actually going to read the book and make changes to the plot, characters, timeline, narrative and dialogue.  Without that, you might as well take the book down to Kinkos to print. Also phrases such as, “Our editors will evaluate your manuscript. If it is accepted, you will receive a short, complimentary synopsis and recommendation.”  What the heck is a short synopsis and recommendation?  That doesn’t sound like editing to me, and it shouldn’t to you either. Here’s a good one: “Our editors will carefully copyedit your manuscript for typographical, punctuation, and grammatical errors.”  That sounds a lot like running Spell Check and Grammar check in MSWord.  Big deal.  You can do that yourself for free.
  5. We’re looking for authors who want to actively participate in the publishing process! You bet they are!  You’ll be participating with your wallet, just so you know.  Other phrases along this same line are: “We expect the author to actively promote the book,” “The author will be a joint venturer in the process,” “We know you’ll want to offer a good faith investment in your own future.”  Yes, most of the commercial publishers also expect you to provide a marketing plan of your thoughts on selling your book.  But they’re optional!  That is the primary difference.  The publisher will be providing the money to print the book.  They will be sending it to catalogues and distributors and the like.  They will be marketing it, along with many other books, to the general public.  But they hope that you will want to help to sell it too.  That’s a good thing and to the benefit of your book.  But a vanity publisher will require your financial contribution.  They may write the contract so you MUST buy copies of your own book to sell.  They may write it so you MUST pre-sell a certain number of the books prior to publication.  They may claim that they need a “contribution to the cost of publication” that is refundable under certain conditions (usually crafted so they’ll almost never be fulfilled.”  Once again, remember the golden rule — GOLD FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NOT AWAY FROM THE AUTHOR!
  6. There are many vanity presses but…! Of course, nobody will admit to being a vanity press, so they’ll busily point the finger at others of their same ilk and tell you all the reasons why they are different.  If you see the words “we’re not”, be wary.
  7. Big New York publishers may only publish one or two authors a year! Pfft!  This is hardly even worth disputing, but just so you know, commercial publishers accept manuscripts from hundreds and hundreds of authors a year.  Admittedly, many publishing houses are requiring agented submissions and this is hard on an author.  But much of the reason is quality.  Publishers acknowledge that agents make their living from selling books.  So, if an agent has accepted the book, there’s a better than average chance that the book is close to the quality required to publish.  Don’t be discouraged.  There are still plenty of good, commercial publishers seeking unsolicited manuscripts.  Look to Writer’s Digest magazine, The Writer magazine, the book called Writer’s Market along with a wide variety of web-based author help sites to find good quality publishers.

Above all — don’t get discouraged!  That’s the mindset that will allow vanity publishers the power to stroke your ego, and stroke the money right out of your wallet!




Many aspiring authors are confused by the variety of publishers available in the industry.  Since the goal of any author is to be published, does it matter what publisher is used?  In a word — maybe…

When a reader thinks of a publisher, they usually think of a large firm in New York that prints thousands or millions of books.  The books, either paperback, trade, or hardback show up in every bookstore, discount store and grocery in the country and overseas.  The large press companies are often called Normal Publishers, Commercial Publishers, Traditional Publishers or TP for short.  A TP is a relatively new term, that was–oddly–begun by subsidy publishers. Large publishers generally call THEMSELVES “commercial publishers”. But whatever you call them, a TP is a company which employs full-time editors, cover artists, in-house attorneys and all of the support staff necessary to publish books.  Usually, an author submits a manuscript and, if the manuscript appears commercially viable (see below articles for “What an Editor Looks For”), then the publisher pays the author an advance (up-front money which is the amount anticipated the book will earn), and begins the publication process of editing, copyediting, etc.  The important thing to remember in TP is that the publisher takes on the financial risk of publishing the book.  The author does not PAY ONE SINGLE DIME of the cost to publish the book!  The publishing process is expensive, but a TP takes on the financial risk because their careful selection process generally means that at least 50% of the time, they will break even in their out-of-pocket expense.  They pay from 4%-10% to the author in royalties, which allows them to pay their expenses and still hopefully make a profit.  An average print run for a beginning author at a Commercial Press is 20,000-60,000 copies.  Most any magazine, newspaper or website will review a commercially published book.

 The next type of publisher is a Small Publisher or Small Press.  There are thousands of small presses all over the world.  This type of publisher generally chooses books with “local appeal” or “genre appeal” that probably will not be interesting to nationwide audiences.  Examples of this are regional historical books.  While the details of the Battle of San Jacinto in Texas history might be interesting to Texans or students of history, they probably won’t garner as much national attention as, say, the battle of the Alamo.  A Small Publisher also has careful standards in choosing manuscripts — probably more so than Commercial Publishers.  Their dollars are tight, and have to be spent on offerings that have the greatest chance to break even in out-of-pocket expenses, since they also take on the financial risk of publishing the book.  Again, the author does not PAY ONE SINGLE DIME of the cost to publish.  A Small Press often does not offer an initial advance, but pays a little higher than average advance in exchange, usually 10%-12%, because they don’t have the larger overhead of the Commercial Presses.  A Small Publisher book is usually offered in most bookstores in the regional area of the subject matter, and is available through small distributors so that it can be ordered from anywhere.  An average print run for a beginning author at a Small Press is 3,000-10,000 copies.  Most magazines, newspapers and websites have a special “Small Press Reviewer” who seeks out exceptional books that are Small Press published to highlight each month.

For a book that has limited appeal (even smaller an area or group than regional), or is of a type that  might not “fit” in a traditional genre (for example, a horror/erotica novel or a non-fiction book about the care and feeding of Brazilian llamas), then an author has the option to Self Publish.  This is also known as SP.  Self-published authors take the place of the publisher, because it is the AUTHOR who takes on the entire financial risk of publishing.  The author pays for editing the book from a freelance editor; the author pays for the book to be formatted (if the author doesn’t have the skill or knowledge); the author pays for the cover artist to design the front cover, the back cover and the spine art.  The author pays to have the book printed, distributed and marketed.  However, the author also receives the ENTIRE benefit of the purchase price from the public.  Depending on how much of the design and marketing the author did him/herself, a sales price will pay the expenses and still net the author a profit that will be similar to what they would have recouped from a commercial or small publisher.  Newspapers local to the author’s home will usually review a self-published book, and the occasional magazine might look at SP novels once or twice a year.  Some websites and independent reviewers are happy to review a self-published book.

But to get the book into the public’s hands, an SP author is dependant on the services of a printer to put the book in final form.  There are two types of presses available to a self published author.  One is using the services of a small press — the same ones that a small publisher uses.  Normally, they require a minimum press run of 2,500 to 5,000 books.  However, many SP authors can’t afford this sort of up-front cost and have nowhere to warehouse the completed volumes.

So, a SP author’s second option is a Print On Demand, or POD press.  By using digital presses, a POD printer can store the completed manuscript, dimensions, cover art, plus any photos or graphs in a electronic folder and, “on demand” print out 100, 10 or even a single volume of the book.  This makes it quite easy for an author to sell their books, because nothing has to be printed until the book is already sold — making the prospect of recouping the expense guaranteed.

But the POD technology has also led to a whole new type of publisher — the Vanity Publisher and Subsidy Publisher.  What is the difference between them?  Well, in reality — there isn’t one.  Mind you, there used to be a difference.  Before POD technology, a subsidy publisher was one which wasn’t quite a small press.  They would find obscure novels and give them a chance, but because their finances were tight, they would ask for a small helping hand from the author to pay the printer for the first edition.  That is to say, for a full press run of 2,500 copies, they would pay half and the author would pay half, and the subsidy press would then warehouse and sell the book as a commercial publisher does.  The author would receive back their money for the print run as books were sold until paid back and then would drop into the more traditional royalty-based pay.  Reviewers for newspapers and magazines looked kindly on subsidy presses, for the most part, because they were Small Press wanna-be’s that would eventually turn into a solid company.

But all that changed with POD entered the picture.  Suddenly, anyone could claim to be a publisher and take on manuscripts to earn money from — all with no dollars out of pocket!

Now, to be fair, some subsidy publishers state up front that they are a printer.  They make no bones about the fact that the AUTHOR bears the full financial responsibility for the production of the book.  You will probably never recoup your investment, get a review, or make your fortune.  And, the out of pocket investment can be quite large — thousands of dollars more than a small press would pay to publish a book, because you’re only doing it one at a time.  But these fee-based subsidy presses DO actually have a niche in the world.  They are perfect for family histories, where only a dozen or a hundred people will  be interested in the book.  They are great for organization cookbook fundraisers and the like.  They are being paid to perform a service for people who don’t have a publisher in the family.  This is terrific, because books that might never have seen the light of day can make it to print.  This is the good sort of Vanity Press — the desire to see a product in print that a large publisher would probably never look at.  Perhaps it’s vain to want to hold a book in your hands, but sometimes it’s enough to make the writer happy.  An author is unlikely to ever get a book published by a vanity/subsidy publisher reviewed.  The magazines, newspapers and websites don’t consider them “published.”  The publishing industry as a whole actually considers a vanity/subsidy publisher to be LESS than a self-published book.  It’s not considered a writing credit for any future contract negotiations with a large publisher.  Vanity publishers are nothing more than “printers” to the rest of the book industry.  The good vanity publishers know this.  If they use the term “publisher” at all, it is meant to mean that they assist in formatting the book before it is printed.

Unfortunately, some vanity publishers have taken advantage of the good name that subsidy publishers once had and have ruined it.  They have led aspiring authors to believe that they are good and kind small presses which only want to help by-pass the rigmarole that  commercial presses “put an author through.”   But therein resides the lie of dishonest vanity presses commercial publishers and small publishers are CONSTANTLY seeking new writers.  But they do expect a writer to have mastered his/her craft.  Dishonest vanity publishers have no such expectation.  They will print EXACTLY what is given to them.  If editing is done at all, it is to correct things  like punctuation or word choice.  Part of the lie is that they are just like commercial publishers, who will edit these things, but they fail to mention that commercial publishers ALSO edit the plot, the characters, timeline and motivation.  These are required to make the best book possible.  A vanity publisher isn’t concerned about the best book, because the author is paying the bill.  And if the author is not paying the bill — a terrific ploy by some vanity publishers — then the BUYERis footing the bill.  While the cost to publish is not out of the author’s pocket, it is ALSO not out of the publisher’spocket.  They are not willing to take on the financial risk of publishing. A similar trade paperback that will retail for $14.95 from a commercial or small publisher will cost $19.95 to $24.95 from a vanity publisher — so the end reader is paying the actual expense of printing (plus profit to the publisher, which is how they can maintain their business).  Most author contracts state that royalties are based on NET sales, rather than on retail price, so the extra cost of the book does not benefit the author at all.

REMEMBER THE GOLDEN RULE: Gold flows TO the author, not away from the author.  If you want to write the one book that’s in your head, and never expect to write another; never expect to have a career of writing; and never hope to make enough money to REPLACE your day-job salary, then a subsidy publisher is probably fine.  But if you are an aspiring author who hopes to build a career of five, ten or a hundred books, then you should learn your craft, take your time, and stay with the commercial publisher or small press.


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For a small press or self-published author, getting your book into a book store or accepted by a distributor can be a daunting task.  How do you convince a buyer to give your book a chance?  The best way to make a lasting impression is with a Press Kit.  Publishers routinely issue press kits to buyers for distributors and independent booksellers as a way of getting the appropriate information to them in a concise, easy-to-manage format.  You can duplicate the same high-quality Press Kit that a publisher prepares quite easily, by following this step-by-step guide:

The Press Kit that we’re going to create here is one that we did for our first novel, Road to Riches: The Great Railroad Race to Aspen.

First, buy the following supplies at your nearest Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples (or clone):

1) Glossy Portfolio folders (with inside pockets) in your choice of colors (think cream or tan for elegant, navy blue or black for “dark/creepy” or perhaps match a color on your cover!)

2) A half-ream or ream of 8-1/2×11″ 80# (pound) to 100# card stock in cream or buff. First, don’t confuse “paper” with “card stock”. 80# paper is not at all the same as 80# card stock. The stock should be about the same stiffness as a good quality business card. Don’t go with too much rag content or linen or else the letter edges will bleed and not look professional. One that’s very attractive is Astroparche Specialty Card Stock by Wausau Papers (same brand as the neon Astrobright paper that you can find in Walmart, btw, but the Astroparche is only in the OfficeMax and Papers Unlimited chains that I’ve been able to find) in “Natural” color. It’s only 65#, but for some reason feels much stiffer than even the 110#. It has a very professional look and feel.

3) Permanent glue stick, Dryline (Liquid Paper brand) permanent glue tape or double sided Scotch tape (yellow label in that brand). They all work about the same, but I prefer the Dryline glue tape for easy application. Remember that we’re talking *instant permanent*. If you mess up with a photo, the photo is trashed!

Next, take out five sheets of the heavy paper.

Put the first sheet aside.

Take the second sheet, and cut one inch off the bottom with a papercutter or scissors.

Take the third sheet and cut two inches off the bottom.

Take the fourth sheet and cut three inches off the bottom

Take the fifth (final) sheet and cut four inches off the bottom

When you tap them all together into a stack, you will have tabbed, or stepped, papers that will stand up on the left side of the portfolio so that each of their titles will show at a glance and can never be covered up by the other.

Have a good 5×7 photo of yourself taken, in black and white. Professional and author-y, without too much “Glamour Shots” feel. Glue it to a sixth, full-sized piece of the paper with double-stick tape or glue stick. Make sure that none of the sticky ends up outside the edges of the photo. If it does, use a different sheet of paper. There’s nothing worse than a book buyer or distributor representative getting sticky fingers from your promo material! It works best to apply the tape/glue to all four corners and then put an X in the center, corner to corner, to stick it firmly. Tuck it into the opposite side of the portfolio so that the photo isn’t covered by the pocket.

On the tallest sheet of the heavy paper, you will center about one inch from the top of the page the following words in 48-64 point type (Times New Roman or Arial work best, but feel free to experiment with fonts to fit the tone of the book):


On the next tallest page, you will use the SAME typeface and size to print in the center:


On the next tallest page, you will use the SAME typeface and size to print in the center:


On the next tallest page, you will use the SAME typeface and size to print in the center:


On the shortest page, you will use the SAME typeface and size to print in the center:


Here is the data that appeared on ours. You’ll have to adjust the size of the font and content to fit the various sized pages and the details of your book. The text should be centered both vertically and horizontally on the page. Distance below the title doesn’t matter.


Road to Riches: The Great Railroad Race to Aspen

ISBN: 1-890437-84-0

$14.95, 192 pages

26 Illustrations & photographs

Size: 6×9


Authors: Cathy L. Clamp and C.T. Adams

Ship Date: May, 2003

Distributors: Books West, Baker & Taylor, Partners/West, Quality Books, or directly from Western Reflections Publishing Company.

Interesting Tidbits:

*The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad completed the eighty-six miles from Red Cliff to Aspen in just eight months.

*The D&RG used 1,000 men and over 600 animals to construct the first railroad through the Glenwood Canyon.

*Glenwood Canyon still remains one of the biggest obstacles to east-west travel in all of Colorado.

Road to Riches: The Great Railroad Race to Aspen is published by Western Reflections Publishing Company (800) 993-4490.



Cathy Clamp was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, lived in Glenwood Springs, was in Denver at the time she wrote the book, but now lives in Brady, Texas. She is a Certified Professional Legal Secretary, Certified Legal Assistant, CLA Real Estate Specialist, and CLA Intellectual Property Specialist. She likes reading, fishing, and hunting. She received an Honorable Mention for her short story, A Matter of Taste, in Writer’s Digest 2001 International Writing Competition. Cathy has written numerous magazine articles encompassing humor, the outdoors, and legal matters. She recently retired to become a full-time author.

C.T. Adams was born in Illinois, but now lives in Denver Colorado.  She is a full-time legal secretary and her inspirational essay, Lessons, received an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest 2001 International Writing Competition.



“We’ve got to get a crew out to section ten,” Luke announced. “There’s a waterfall coming over the edge of the cliff. The water’s washed away the bed. The 403 will be arriving from Glenwood soon. It won’t see the damage in this storm until it’s too late!”

Luke could hear the faint whistle of the train as it passed the Satank station. The 403 must have left the station early. It would be here in a few minutes, and he wasn’t nearly a mile from the damaged rails. He grabbed the lantern, dismounted, and left his mule to find shelter near the cliff face. He turned up the flame until the red glass blazed, and began to swing it in wide arcs from side to side. The movement was nearly too much for his injured ribs to handle. He took short, gasping breaths and continued swinging the lantern. Minutes passed. The roadbed began to shake as the engine approached.

The ice-cold torrent poured down mercilessly. Luke couldn’t see through the storm, but knew the train was almost upon him. The headlight appeared out of nowhere, far too close. Startled, Luke leapt to the side, leaving the lantern on the tracks, and rolled down the embankment. He stopped just short of a stream formed by the icy October rain, nearly the size and speed of the Roaring Fork. He could barely move by the time he halted his fall. He lay there, pain flooding his mind, wheezing heavily. He struggled against the darkness that ate at the edge of his vision, listening intently. A heartbeat later, a whistle pierced the air. They had seen him. But, if they had not understood the warning, it would still be too late!



“This entertaining novel is based on the famous 1887 railroad race to Aspen, Colorado. The authors’ historical research is first rate.” Charles Albi, Historian, Colorado Railroad Museum


PR SYNOPSIS (Note:  This is the first thing a buyer will see when they open the portfolio, because it’s on the shortest paper.  They should be able to see the majority of the text on this page without removing the paper from the pocket.)

In 1887, Colorado’s western slope received freight by stage and wagon, a long and arduous trip over the Continental Divide. The Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG), known as the “Baby Road,” had just been reorganized by bankruptcy courts. Because of the bankruptcy, other railroads weren’t taking the Baby Road seriously. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe broke “The Treaty of Boston” and began building in D&RG territory. The Union Pacific was buying up smaller companies to cut into the D&RG’s business. The officers of the D&RG realized that whoever first reached Aspen could write their own ticket on tourists and freight of both silver ore and coal. William Jackson and David Moffatt closed their eyes, crossed their fingers, and dove into the battle with fists, and money, flying. The Colorado Midland had a head start. In March of 1887, the D&RG started building from Red Cliff, near Vail, using 1,000 men and over 600 animals. The construction crew traveled eighty-six miles from Red Cliff to Aspen—in eight months! From political backstabbing to multiple levels of saboteurs, the story is an eloquent tale of hard-working, proud men, building a route to the silver fields of Aspen, against the odds of weather and geography, and various factions trying to prevent their success.


That’s it! If you have a cover flat, trim it at the spine bend so that it’s just the front cover. You can double-tape or glue stick it on the front of the portfolio in the same way you did the photo and POOF! You have a Press Kit. If you don’t have a cover flat, you can also use Glossy photo paper if you have a JPEG of your cover from the publisher, and use it just like a cover flat. Print it out on a good quality inkjet at the size that approximates the size it will be on the shelf (5×7 or mass paperback size or 6×9 for trade paperback size), but not a full 8×10. You should be able to see the binder around the edges. An 8×10 photo looks stretched and not as professional as a regular cover size. As a last resort, you can just print the words “Press Kit” on another sheet of the heavy stock paper in a fancier lettering, such as Monotype Corsiva, bold, in 66 point font. Then trim it to a 2″x4″ strip and glue it on the same way about 4 inches down from the top instead of centered, so it looks like a title.


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For the past two weeks, we’ve discussed the value of reviews in making your book a success.  One of the ways to get word about reviews to your readers is through a Press Release.  A press release is nothing more than a statement about the book that is presented in such a way to attract the maximum interest possible and capture the attention of the widest variety of people by careful word selection.  For this example, we’ll work on preparing the internet press release that I wrote for our book, HUNTER’S MOON.  It was posted on PRWeb on September 11, 2004.  The internet press release is becoming a very common tool for the aspiring writer, and the format is nearly identical to what you will need to prepare for a newspaper/magazine print press release.

We’ll start with the Headline

The headline is the first thing that a reader will see, so it has to grab their attention enough to ask “Why?”  You always want to make sure that you tell the absolute truth in a headline, but the goal is to scream whatever accomplishment would cause you to issue the release in the first place.

Exceptional Forthcoming Novel, HUNTER’S MOON, is Making Waves as Part of New Imprint by TOR BOOKS – Listed as One of’s “Early Adopters in Science Fiction and Fantasy!”

Note the key elements of this headline:  We just TOLD the reader that the book is EXCEPTIONAL.  We told them it’s NEW, and we’ve told them why they should read more about it — because it’s on’s LIST.  A list is an “authority figure”.  An expert or a well-known celebrity or titled person (Dr. PhD, etc.) is also an authority figure.  But the “proof” of your statements should be immediately explained and should be recognizable.  Use your imagination, but make sure that it’s the TRUTH.  Is the book making waves?  Well, it must be if it’s on a list.  Is the book exceptional?  It must be if it’s on a list.

Next, is the Summary

The summary is a very important part of any press release.  The summary tells more about the book, but is careful to ADD more whys to the list, rather than ANSWER the whys from the title, to make the reader want to continue.  Here’s the one that was in our release:

Fans of NY Times Bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton will be thrilled with the first in a new paranormal series written by writing team C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp.  EXCITING! GRIPPING! A CUTTING-EDGE PARANORMAL ADVENTURE! Everyone is talking about the new MUST-READ novel for the fall season, HUNTER’S MOON — and the talk is all GOOD!

So, what does this tell us about the book?  First, it tells the reader the names of other known authors which the work can be compared to.  Then it tells the AUTHORS.  Next, it tells some of the things contained in reviews and quotes (items that can be verified) and then it tells the TITLE.  The summary is extremely important to an internet release, because THIS IS WHERE THE SEARCH ENGINES WILL GRAB KEYWORDS FROM!  We’ll discuss keywords next week and why it’s critical to choose a wide selection to draw disparate readers to the release.

Here’s the main part of the release – the Body

The body of a good press release should give ALL of the answers asked by the wording of the Headline and Summary.  Then it should ask a few additional questions and tease the reader into further research (i.e., sending them to your website or to a bookseller to buy the book.)  The Body can be either long or short.  The length isn’t nearly as important as telling the reader the ANSWERS.  If you can do that quickly, more the better.  Remember — the longer a press release is, the fewer people will read the entire document.

The body of our Press Release looked like this:

(PRWEB) September 11, 2004 — New York, NY — What do you get when you cross an assassin with a wolf? A good reason to stay indoors on the full moon.

Welcome to a new reality. Shapeshifters live among us. The Sazi are wolves and bears, snakes, raptors and cats. With each full moon, their bodies sprout fur, or scales or even feathers. They are all races, all cultures, but are forced to hide from the human population — hide in plain sight. If anyone had proof of their existence, they would be captured for testing, or slaughtered en masse.

Tony, a hitman for the Mafia, was brutally attacked during a hit gone wrong. He woke up furry, and now, with every full moon, he changes into a werewolf. Months later, Tony has a bad feeling that the wolf-senses are encroaching on his human life. This is confirmed when he meets a new client, Sue, and feels an immediate attraction to her. But there’s a bigger problem – she wants to hire him to kill her. As he’s drawn further into her life and her problems, the wolf inside of him clamors to be let out – and he realizes he’s not the only one in the Midwest whose life is ruled by the moon …

But Tony and Sue’s enemies aren’t only those in the mob and aren’t just furry. Sue’s family has their own agenda, and Tony is definitely in the way.

Come explore the complex world of Tony Giodone. Meet Mafia Boss Carmine Leone, and his lovely wife, Linda. Play poker with Joey “the Snake”, and run from a rival hit man, as well as the homicide detective who is obsessed with arresting Tony.

Engulf your senses in a supernatural world where emotions are visible in the air like faded watercolors, and the scent of fear makes your stomach growl.

To be released by Tor Books on December 12, 2004, but AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER through all internet and brick-and-mortar booksellers. Links to most booksellers are available on the author’s website.

Read a sample chapter to whet your appetite at:

Price: $6.99 US/$9.99 Can.
ISBN: 0-765-34913-2
Format: Mass paperback
Publisher: Tor Books (Tom Doherty Associates)

Read what other authors and the critics are saying:

LAURELL K. HAMILTON, NY Times Best selling author, says: “I read the book in one sitting. I look forward to the next book in the series, because it has to be the beginning of a series. A world this enjoyable deserves more than one visit. This book has some new twists in the werewolf’s tail that were very cool.”

ROUNDTABLE REVIEWS was likewise impressed: “HUNTER’S MOON is a fantastic story that kept me wondering and imagining what was going to happen next. Reading each page I could see in my mind the story unfolding and it was like watching a really good movie, all I needed was soda and popcorn . . . I more than enjoyed this book, it was excellent. It had a brilliant storyline and was extremely well written. I hope that the authors will write more of this type. I know I would definitely queue outside or inside a bookstore to get a copy of this or any like it from these authors. This is a book you won’t want to miss out on.”

Multi-published, best selling fantasy author TESS MALLORY isn’t shy in her praise: “An amazing, cutting edge paranormal adventure . . . I couldn’t help but compare the first person, male narrative style to Mickey Spillane. Men will especially enjoy this fast-paced action/adventure paranormal, and women will be enthralled by the incredible, deftly written love-making scenes. I will anxiously await the next installment. Tony’s character is just too unique, and too darn SEXY to stop with only one book. This has earned a spot on my keeper shelf!” TESS MALLORY, multi-published fantasy author

And THE ROMANCE STUDIO gave this book a rating of: “4 Hearts, Very Sensual. This book is very good. The paranormal aspect is very well done and I will definitely be recommending this book to other readers. If werewolf stories are your favorite, then you have to pick this one up. Action and adventure are abundant and you won’t be disappointed.”

Check out the article about this exciting new romance line from Tor Books, including HUNTER’S MOON, as well as offerings by well-known authors Constance O’Day-Flannery and Patricia Simpson, in the October issue of RT Bookclub Magazine!

Don’t forget to read a sample chapter!

This is fairly long for a press release, but it answers all of the questions:  It tells WHY the book is exceptional (it’s gotten good reviews, which the reader can see for themselves). It tells WHY the book is on Amazon’s list (because of the good reviews).  It tells a brief synopsis of the book with “teasers” that will interest fans of Laurell Hamilton, it gives the ISBN, price and other key information to purchase the book, and it gives further places to research (the article in RT BookClub, and the author’s website).

Note that the entire press release is written to give the appearance that it was written by a third party.  The goal is to make the release look as though it was created and released by the publisher.  By adding in information about the previous and following books in this same line, the reader gets the impression that the publisher is releasing one of these for each book!  The publicity of another book by your publisher, or promoting the book of a fellow author or review site does no harm to anyone and provides you with goodwill.  This is why it’s always a good idea to pass along the text of the release to your editor if you have one, or any quotes you attribute to a third party reviewer.  Likely, the editor will want to make one or two changes, and a reviewer/author will appreciate being included in the loop.


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Once you’ve taken the time to find suitable magazines and websites which are interested in reviewing your book, you need to consider something:  The review will attract the readers of THAT publication, but how do you get otherreaders to see the review?

  1. A Personal Webpage.  In today’s internet-friendly world, a website is your best bet to get the word about your book out to the general public.  Most writer websites, like Writersspace or Author World, offer free single page websites to tell about your books.  This is a good place to provide links to the magazines or websites who have reviewed your book, so that readers can go from place to place looking at all of the good things others have to say.
  2. Excerpts. If you don’t have much room on your page to write down every single word of even ONE review, you can write excerpts of the full review and still achieve the same effect.  For example,

5 Roses! Cathy Clamp and C.T. Adams have created a world of mobsters and assassins, along with a paranormal aspect by making our assassin/hero a werewolf… This is definitely a keeper and would make a great Christmas present for all readers. This reviewer recommends this book highly. Enjoy!” DIANE, Love Romances

The ellipses (three dots after a word) indicate that there is more text that you have not included.  In this way, you can get the important information to the reader without having to take up the space of a two or three paragraph review.

  1. A Press Release.  A Press Release is another good way to get the word out to your readers.  Whether it is typed on a sheet of paper and mailed to major newspaper book editors, or placed on a website with thousands of other similar press releases, the likelihood is good that a few dozen or a few hundred people will probably see the release.  A sample of one that we have done can be viewed on PRWeb, a free press release service, to show how this method can be successful.  This release was placed on a number of websites and search engines and 44,399 people clicked beyond the main title (in blue) to read the full review.  Sample Review
  2. Bookseller’s webpage. The truth is that booksellers, like, and, want to sell books.  They want to sell YOUR book!  The more information you can give them to do this, the better they like it.  Reviews are a terrific way for booksellers to interest the public.  Barnes and Noble and Borders encourage authors to “add content” to their book page, to show favorable reviews, awards won, or excerpts/samples that the reader can review.  If you visit the Help Page on their websites, you can search for a location to “add content” or “revise information” about your book.  Several booksellers provide easy to fill out forms to add the content, including a book cover photo, or provide an e-mail address to contact them with additional information.

ABOVE ALL — Don’t be shy!  If you get a good review, there’s no shame in crowing it to the world!  The squeaky wheel gets the grease (or in this case, gets the SALES!)


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One of the primary marketing tools for self-published, small press and large press authors alike is reviews.  There are several different kinds of reviews, including publication/website reviews, independent reviews and reader feedback.

Do reviews really matter?  IMO, YES!

  1. Reviews for Publications/Websites.  There are a number of print publications, electronic magazines (e-zines) and genre websites that offer to review books.  The primary advantage to having a book reviewed by a publication or website is exposure.  Subscribers to a publication, e-zine or visitors to a website can access a description of your book with comments on the good and bad points of the book.  Naturally, this is a double-edged sword.  If the review is good, sales will increase.  However, if the reviews aren’t complimentary, sales can suffer.  Reviews always have been, and continue to be your best opportunity for free exposure.  Most publications understand that they have a dual role ~ to supply their subscribers/readers with truthful commentary about new books, while also providing at least a little portion of the review that is favorable so that it will promote the author.
  2. Independent Reviews.  Some people are avid readers and have gained a name for writing well thought out and detailed book reviews.  Often, an independent reviewer will write a single review that will be published and/or posted in multiple locations.  Some reviewers contract with review magazines or websites and earn income from each one.  Those who have written regularly for a number of years have a wide audience of readers who respect their opinion of a book.  Independent reviewers can often be spotted posting their reviews on or Barnes &  Look for the header “Top 100 Reviewer”, which usually means that they are a professional reviewer.
  3. Reader Feedback.  Just as important as a formal review is “word-of-mouth” reviews by readers.  With the advent of the internet, readers can quickly and easily post their thoughts on a book through many of the internet booksellers.  These reader feedback reviews are quite important, because readers understand that professional reviews can be slanted toward the author, so that the reader will buy the book.  Reader feedback comments can be brutal when a book is panned, however.  It’s a good idea to develop a thick skin when reading these offerings by the general public.

So, do reviews really matter?  In our opinion, the answer is a resounding YES!  There is nowhere else to obtain such inexpensive exposure of your book.  The more reviews an aspiring author can obtain, the better, because you stand a good chance of getting at least a FEW good reviews in the long run, and those reviews can be used to help sell the sequel or your next stand-alone novel.  If you are fortunate enough to get ALL good reviews, then the sheer weight of them will swing a reader who is on the fence about whether to buy your book.

Next week, we’ll discuss HOW to get the reviews to your readers!

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Last week, we discussed what ISB numbers are and how they came to be developed.  The system has served the publishing industry well over the years.  But even a good system can be improved.  Beginning January 1, 2005, the ISB number will begin to transition to an EAN/UCC-13 number.  First, let’s talk a little about the EAN/UCC system.


In 1974, twelve members of the European community decided to establish their own system of book numbering, similar to the UPC (Uniform Product Code) number that appears in the barcode of items sold in the United States.  As a result of a number of meetings, a UPC compatible system was created, known as the European Article Numbering system, or EAN.  The Uniform Code Council,  or UCC (not to be confused with the United States Uniform Commercial Code, which is also known by the acronym of UCC) was established to co-manage the system along with the member countries.  The two later merged and changed the agency name to “EAN International”.  There are presently 103 member countries of EAN International.


What is causing the transition from the  familiar ISBN to the EAN/UCC-13 number?  Two reasons:

  1. Limited supply of numbers. As originally envisioned, the ISBN system allowed for one billion possible combinations of numbers to assign to books.  But new kinds of publishing since the late 1980s have literally flooded the market with books.  In reality, like the U.S. telephone area code issue several years ago, the end is in sight. While the system was not yet out of numbers, in a few years time, it might have been. The global bookselling industry decided to acknowledge the inevitable and transition the system before a lack of numbers started to strangle the market.
  2. Global Marketing Partners.  Overseas publishing partners have always existed.  However, it was always a struggle for international booksellers, like Amazon, Indigo and Barnes & Noble to identify American books for sale in foreign markets, and vice-versa.  For a number of years now, bar codes on American offerings have identified only the ISBN and price.  However, Canadian, Central American and European books have TWO barcodes — one for American sales, and one with EAN/UCC information, which includes more information about the book.  Combining the two systems will allow for easier overseas marketing of mass market and e-books.


Beginning on January 1, 2005 and continuing on until January 1, 2007, existing ISBNs will simply have the prefix978 added.  This number has been assigned as a transitional number until the new system is fully up and running.  So, if you have an ISBN of:  0-765-34913-2, the new EAN/UCC-13 number will appear as: 978-0-765-34913-2.  A publisher who has been assigned a block of ISBNs should continue to use those numbers until exhausted, but prefix them with the 978.  This allows the already-established “check digit” explained the earlier article to continue in use.  However, after January 1, 2007, new ISBNs issued will carry a 979 prefix and all ten-digit numbers will be discontinued.  The addition of the additional prefix numbers will provide just slightly less than one billion new number combinations.  However, blocks of numbers will be more frugally issued to make them last longer so we don’t have to do this all over again in another 30 years.  Publishers won’t be able to obtain hundreds or thousands of numbers in the future.  Instead, they will be issued in smaller blocks, but more frequently.  Of course, this will also lead to new criteria for allocation of publisher and group prefixes.  To date, there are no anticipated differences for POD or electronic books.  They will all carry the 978 prefix just as hardback, trade or paperback offerings will.

The 13-digit number will be commonly known as the Bookland EAN or ISBN-13.  Why “Bookland?”  Again, two reasons: first, the prefix 978 and 979 will identify the product as a “book.”  Second,   the black lines and bars that appear on the back of books are known as Bookland bar code symbols. Although the bar code LOOKS the same as bar codes for other kinds of products used by retailers, the numbering system used to generate the bar code is different. The EAN for normal retail products is a 13 digit number which uniquely identifies that product, down to the size, color and shape of an item. However, a book already HAS a unique number to identify it, the ISBN. The EAN bar code for a book is generated from the ISBN for the book.

In September of 2003, the Book Industry Study Group, or BISG, adopted a policy statement which called for the Bookland EAN to be the sole bar code used for books and book-related products, effective January 1, 2005.  The largest issue with this decision is forcing retailers to obtain compatible machine code-reading equipment.  Many larger retailers have already taken the plunge.  For example, Wal-Mart has already installed 13-digit compatible equipment in all of their American stories.  Smaller stores will have until January 1, 2007 to comply, but most will probably transition earlier, simply because they soon won’t be able to sell ISBN-13 marked products.  It’s in their best interests to “go with the flow.”


For the time being, the transition to the 13-digit system is useful information, but not a reason to panic. However, publishers should submit new offerings to Books In Print in the new format.  Several software companies are already starting to market software kits that will transition to the 13-digit number and produce a bar code. However, nobody is required to comply with converting numbers until January 1, 2007.  But it would be wise for those with blocks of numbers to check out R.R. Bowker’s website for the link “Transition to 13-digit ISBN” with answers to FAQs, at, and you might search for “ISBN 13 & software” on search engines.

Next week, we’ll talk more about marketing opportunities for self-published and small press authors!

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Anyone who has read a book is familiar with that strange ten digit number, often separated by dashes or spaces, on the cover and title page of a book.  But what is it and what does it mean?  The ISBN, or International Standard BookNumber, was conceived during a meeting of European book publishers and distributors in November 1966, in Berlin, Germany.  At the time, the Third International Conference on Book Market Research and Rationalization in the Book Trade was concerned about the upcoming use of computers for efficient automated book handling, and it was decided that each book in the world should have a unique number that would cross international boundaries.  The book numbering system was introduced in 1967 by J. Whitaker & Sons, Ltd. in the United Kingdom, and later in America by R.R. Bowker.  Over time, some 150 countries adopted the program, and it is still in use today.

What sort of publications are required to bear ISBNs?  For the purpose of the system, a “book” is any transmission of text content to an audience, so it doesn’t matter whether the book is hardback, paperback, trade paperback, electronic, audio tape, diskette, CD-Rom, internet-only download, or any other variation of media.  Things that are not included are art prints and folders without text, sound recordings, sheet music and serial publications.

The structure of the ISBN is quite simple.  The ten digits are separated into four parts of variable length, which must be separated by spaces or dashes.  For example:  0-765-34913-2 OR 0 765 34913 2.  The first number (in this example “zero”) is the Group Identifier.  The number shown identifies one of the primary English-speaking countries (U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada).  The English-speaking countries of South Africa and Zimbabwe use a “1” in place of the zero.  It should be noted that due to the influx of small press, POD and internet publishers that hit the scene in the 1990s, the International ISBN Agency began assigning the Group Identifier “1” to newer English-speaking publishers, regardless of their country of origin.  Here are a few of the many codes assigned, which allow the reader to know in what country the book originated:

0 – English (UK, US, Can, Aus, NZ)

1 – English (SA, Zim)

2 – French (France, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland)

3 – German (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)

4 – Japan

5 – USSR

6 – Unassigned at present

7 – China

The next series of numbers (in this example “765”) is the Publisher Identifier.  Each publisher in the world, including each separate official address of a multi-national publisher, has a unique number assigned to it that tells the world the producer of the book.  The publisher identifier may have up to seven digits.

The third series of numbers (in this example “34913”) is the Title Identifier.  Each title issued by a publisher has a unique number that may have up to six digits.  No Title Identifier may be reassigned by the publisher at any time.  If a volume is discontinued or switches publishers, the number is discontinued.  The number must remain with the book forever, even if a publisher purchases another publisher, until the book is reprinted under the new company’s imprint.

The final number is what is known as a Check Digit.   This is a “safety” number that ensures that the ISBN is an actual number produced by a publisher (to help prevent black market books).  Because the original purpose of the ISBN was to be computer friendly, the numbers work off a system of eleven.  What this means is that if you add the previous numbers, after being multiplied by a number ranging from 10 to 2, into a single sum, the total must be divisible by 11.  So, in our example:

ISBN                0        7      6      5        3      4      9       1       3

Weight          10        9      8      7        6      5       4       3      2

Totals              0     +63  +48  +35   +18  +20  +36   +3   +6   = 229

229 can’t be divided by 11.  However, 231 can be.  Therefore, the check digit of “2” is added, for a total of 231.  Because it’s divisible by 11, it proves that the number is a valid ISBN.

What happens when a book is issued in multiple formats?  A single title can have a hardback edition, a paperback edition, braille editions, audio tapes and electronic versions, among others.  Is the same number used on each? No. Each separate format must receive a separate number.  Because publishers purchase a large block of numbers, often they separate the numbers internally into groups that will identify them as the various formats.  However, some publisher merely assign the next available number, without consideration for the format.  (Article source: International ISBN Agency, )

But something new is on the horizon.  A new THIRTEEN number ISBN has just been approved and plans are underway to transition all existing 10 digit numbers into 13 digit numbers.  When will this happen and what will it mean for authors and booksellers?

Check back next week for a discussion of the new ISBN and learn what an EAN is!

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Now that we understand that subsidiary rights are any right that is NOT the original claim to print (see Article 7 below), what happens to a book that is tagged for audio tapes, foreign publication, movie rights or book clubs?  Let’s take a moment to go through each type of subsidiary right.

  1. Audio Rights.

Many people have heard of “books on tape.”  What a lot of people don’t know is that there are companies that contract with print publishers (or authors directly) to turn the book into this format.  One of the prime ingredients to a successful audio book is the choice of the narrator.  Audio companies spend a great deal of time searching for the correct voice to bring a book to life.  Sean Connery or James Marsters may be terrific speakers, but having them orate a book such as “Harry Potter” probably won’t sell, because customers who have read the book expect the narrator to be a teenaged boy.  Likewise, a young female voice like Hillary Duff will help sell many of author Judy Blume’s works, but probably won’t be selected for “On Golden Pond.”  Aspiring authors need to consider placing hints in their books that would assist an audio publisher in selecting a voice.  A simple line, such as, “Mary knew that John was startled by her rich alto.  Everybody said that she seemed too young for such a strong voice,” is a huge help for an audio publisher.  Now they know that if the book is told from Mary’s point of view, they need to find a deep voiced narrator.  Clues regarding accents are also useful.  Does the hero have an Irish Brogue?  How about a thick Brooklyn accent or southern twang?  Readers pick up on this in the text, so that when a book is placed in audio format, they have an idea of what they expect to hear.

  1. Translation Rights.

Simply placing an American book in a German bookstore (or vice-versa) isn’t a foreign publication.  A foreign publication entails taking the original text and translating it into the native language of the target country.  Of course, this is a very difficult task, because often the “flavor” of a book can be lost because of differences in word availability.  It’s very important for the author to be involved in the translation process to ensure that the product reaching the foreign reader is as close as possible to the book that everyone in the home country already loves.  It won’t do your pocketbook any good if the translation reads oddly and nobody buys it.  But if the author doesn’t speak the target language, how can he/she help?  One way is to find a bi-lingual reader that is already a fan of the book.  This can be found by asking on internet loops and groups or at a local university.  Often a “friend of a friend” or a professor might be the perfect person to know that a car called a “Nova” will be laughed at in Mexico, because “No Va” means “No Go”.  This is especially critical for slang or common phrases.  The heroine “crossing her fingers for luck” in English should translate to “pressing her thumbs for luck” in German.  If the slang phrase is translated word for word — even though it might be correct — the reader still will not understand it.  Care should be taken by an aspiring author to consider giving hints that will assist a translator in finding the appropriate phrase.  Once a deal is made, contacting the foreign publisher to offer assistance could well be worth the effort.

  1. Movie Rights.

Of course, this is every author’s dream — to have their book appear as a major motion picture.  The best thing that an author can do if a book is selected for filming is to step back and let the director have their head.  Very seldom is the author invited to comment on the film or be involved in screening actors for the roles.  “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling was a notable exception.  The director was a fan of the book and kept in close contact with the author, asking advice on background sets and clothing, which has made the films very close to the books.  But in the case of “Interview with a Vampire,” author Anne Rice admits that she never would have selected Tom Cruise for the part of Lestat, but admitted that once she saw the movie, he’s forever burned into her mind in the role.  Many times, the movie is only loosely based on the book, because parts of the book wouldn’t translate to film profitably.  This can be difficult for an author, but it’s important to remember that they have paid for the right to make changes, and the readers don’t blame an author for a poor film adaptation.

  1. Book Clubs.

Book Clubs are a wonderful way to reach new readers.  Book clubs, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, have a member base (similar to Columbia House Music Club), where readers sign up to receive a book a month (or quarterly), not knowing what book will be next.  Some readers like the randomness, because it allows them to find new authors in their preferred genre without spending the time to read reviews or wander bookstores.  Often the publisher contracts directly with book clubs to place titles, and the author receives a cut of the profit.  Of course, because of the built-in nature of the membership, sales are brisk and can be quite profitable.

Next week, we’ll discuss ISBNs.  Haven’t you always wondered how they work?

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Any right in a novel that is less than the first publisher’s claim to print and sell the book (called the “primary right”) is known as a “secondary,” “serial” or “subsidiary” right. Many authors have heard of audio books, eBooks, book clubs, foreign editions and movies based on a novel. These are all subsidiary rights, and an author (or agent) who knows their stuff can ensure that the lion’s share of the profit from the sale of these rights will go to the author. We’ll take a second to go through each standard right and what it is.

  1. First Serial Rights.
  • This right is traditionally used for magazine and short story work. A first serial right is the right of a periodical to publish a manuscript for the first time. When the right is limited (or not) by a geographic region, it can be called by a common term, such as “First North American Rights” or “First World Rights.” The printing of all or part of the manuscript can occur before or after primary publication.
  1. Second Serial Rights.
  • Also known as “reprint” rights, this allows a periodical to print an excerpt or section of a book or an article after it has been published somewhere else first.
  1. One-Time Rights.
  • A one-time right is just what it sounds like, and is sometimes called a “simultaneous” right. It is generally non-exclusive, meaning that the author can print the exact same article, book or whatever somewhere else at the same time. This doesn’t show up in novels very much, but sometimes you will see this pop up in an anthology of shorts. This allows well known authors to publish in an anthology something that also appeared in a magazine without fear of stepping on toes.
  1. All Rights.
  • As the name implies, if you see a contract where the publisher is seeking All Rights to your book, you are forfeiting the ability to EVER use that work again. While your book doesn’t become the equivalent of a work for hire or ghost written work, because your name is on the cover, it might as well be. This can sometimes happen with a book written inside a specific “universe” such as Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, or a television tie-in, because the characters belong to the owner of the world, so any stories therein are also their property.



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New authors are sometimes thrown for a loop when a publisher makes an offer for a manuscript only if the author can produce a sequel to the first book or at least another single title.  While seeing the benefit of this, the author sometimes doesn’t understand why the publisher has requested another book.  What an author needs to understand is that a publisher is taking a risk on a new author.  It’s not just the risk of selling the book to the public, but selling the book to the distributor!  Presently in the world, there are only a very few distributors for all of the major book chains.  Companies such as Ingrams and Baker & Taylor scour the publishers looking for titles to place in bookstores, discount stores, and grocery chains.  They are the ONLY method for a publisher to put a book in that store, because the distributor has an exclusive agreement with the bookseller.  If a distributor refuses to “handle” a particular book, it likely will languish in the publisher’s warehouse.  There will be nowhere to sell it and the public will never see it.  This is the problem with many small press publishers and Print On Demand (“POD”) publishers.  The distributor refuses to carry them, so it will never be shelved in an exclusive book shop.  Some discount chains and independent booksellers are their own distributors, purchasing directly from the publisher.  Sometimes they will purchase small press and POD offerings, but most mainstream chains work through the distributors.

Like every other middleman, the distributor takes a small piece of the pie, purchasing from the publisher for a certain price, tacking on a small surcharge, and passing the book to the chain at a slightly higher price.  The distributor is an extremely important link in the publishing process, and the editor knows it.  A key selling point to a distributor is the knowledge that the publisher has acquired a future book from the author, which lessens the risk to all parties about an unknown name.  The distributor is taking a risk on the author, because the bookstore will want all of their money back on a “return”, but the distributor will only receive back from the publisher what IT paid for the book.  The profit will be gone, so the risk is real to all parties.

So, how does this affect you?  Well, as soon as you stop bouncing from receiving “the call” from a publisher, they will request a synopsis or proposal of the new book that you plan to write.  Prolific writers probably have several books that they can write a two or three page proposal on in a few days.  But some authors took years to write the one masterpiece that interested the publisher.  This can be a daunting realization (once the adrenaline wears off, of course).  When a manuscript hasn’t actually been written, the proposal process is similar to chatting about a book concept with a friend or critique group.  The plot sounds like fun, the characters are people you could like and the setting is terrific ~ in your head.

But what happens when you get halfway through the plot and hate the hero?  Or what if the plot doesn’t work out as brilliantly as it seemed in your head?  Aren’t you bound to that plot or that annoying hero because you signed a contract for that particular book?  Not necessarily.  Experienced authors understand that sometimes a book concept, like a child, doesn’t quite grow up like you planned.  Now, that isn’t to say that you should give the publisher a completely different book than what you proposed, but your editor understands the creative process.  Sometimes what ends up on paper is just as good, albeit very dissimilar from what you proposed.  The most important thing about writing to proposal is communication.  If you wrote your hero into an inescapable box, tell your editor.  If the plot falls apart at page 200, tell your editor.  Often, your editor will ask what suggestions you would make, or how you hope to fix it, and like the new plot just as well.  Ultimately, though, it is the editor’s choice whether to publish the book, and they may not like the changes.  If you haven’t talked to him/her, then a completely different book will be a rude shock and they might refuse to publish it.  Then you have to decide — how do you want to proceed?  The publisher isn’trequired to publish a second book that doesn’t match what they accepted.  There are two options: One, you might decide to walk away from the deal, publishing only the one book, and sell the new book to another publisher or, Two: you might decide to shelf it and write the dismal plot/annoying hero story that the editor liked.

Next, what if you can’t be done on time?  Often, the publisher will be expecting the completed manuscript in less than a year (sometimes as quickly as six months).  What happens if you learn that you simply cannotwork on such a tight schedule?  Sometimes you will get lucky and the editor can give you a few extra months and move up another book into your slot, so that your second book won’t be published for 16 or 18 months.  Again, this means communication.  If you start to run up against the deadline, and still have a hundred pages to write, tell the editor.  Publishers often pad extra time into sequels or second titles because they understand the creative process is fickle.  But if you’re weeks from the deadline and haven’t started yet, THEN you could have a problem.  The worst thing you can do to your publishing career is ignore the needs of the publisher.  They need to put out a book that month.  Whether it is yours, or someone else’s, is immaterial. But juggling the publishing schedule is a nuisance and it’s not something they like to do.  Again, they might decide to cut their losses and cancel the contract.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but decide carefully.  Editors move from place to place, and you might well end up with the same editor at a different house someday.  Not a good thing if you annoyed them earlier.   Just remember — the professional author understands that writing to proposal is the way of the business.  Nobody can ever take away the success of publishing your first book, but your success as a repeat author depends on your ability to deliver a quality product from a basic idea time after time.

Next week, we’ll look at the different types of publishing, called “subsidiary” deals.

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Many aspiring authors wonder how a publisher edits a book once they have purchased the manuscript.  Often, small and big fears about editing horror stories creep into an author’s mind when the lights go out.  “What if they change the ending?”  “Can I say no if they want to make my hero a different guy?”  Fear not!  Always keep in the back of your mind that a publisher bought a manuscript BECAUSE THEY LIKE THE STORY AS YOU WROTE IT!!! But, you do have to keep an open mind about edits, because an editor truly is trying to make the book the best it can be when they make suggestions.

The first thing that happens when editing begins is that an editor is “assigned” to the book.  Most publishers, whether electronic or small press or large press, have multiple editors.  This is extremely valuable information because, like any other business, sometimes an author will have a personality conflict with the editor.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good editor, or that you’re any less of an author — but sometimes you just might not see eye-to-eye.  If that happens, simply contact the publisher, or the acquisitions editor who purchased the manuscript, and ask whether another editor might be assigned.  But remember that the editor works there and will continue to work there long after your book hits the shelf.  Remain calm and professional if you have a conflict, so that any dispute remains on a business level and doesn’t degrade into personal attacks on one another.  Neither person can afford to get a bad reputation in the business, because word travels far too quickly to avoid a stain on the book.

Fortunately, most times you and your editor will become the best of friends.  You will work as a team to make sure that the final book hitting the shelf will be even more terrific than the one you submitted.  Sometimes all this takes is minor polish.  Polishing is just what it sounds like — making the plot smooth and seamless, making the characters believable and rich, and ensuring that there are no typos or poor grammar to distract the reader from enjoying the book.

An editor will take several weeks (in the case of an electronic book) or several months (in the case of larger print publishers) to create an “edit letter.”  Whether it is sent by e-mail or appears in your mailbox on letterhead, the effect is the same.  During the time that the editor has been reading the book, they have been making notes about small or large things in the plot, or the character’s personalities, or the ending that bother them.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as realizing that the heroine hasn’t eaten a single meal or slept for three days and, inexplicably, isn’t tired or grumpy.  That’s not realistic!  If a reader is to believe that the heroine is a live person, then some mention has to be made.  It can be as simple as adding the words, “After lunch, Betty drove . . .” to the beginning of a paragraph to convey this, or having the heroine realize that she hasn’t eaten and is shaky.  The edit letter will suggest where in the plot Betty having lunch would fit.

Other times, the editor will mention a missing or wrong fact.  This happens a lot in historical novels. Small details like the hero using a stick match to light a lantern in 1608, when matches didn’t exist until 1820, can make or break the believability of the plot.  Readers of historicals are known to be picky about their favorite time period, so RESEARCH MATTERS!  An editor will want these small details fixed because the quality of the details doesn’t just reflect on you as the author — it also reflects poorly on the publisher for not catchingthe error.

Once you receive an edit letter, it is your obligation — BY CONTRACT — to correct those items which the publisher feels are problems within a certain time period.  While you can choose not to fix them, the publisher can likewise choose not to put their name on your book.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to give up your integrity just to be published.  If you disagree with a plot suggestion and have a good reason why the plot twist or element absolutely MUST be there, discuss it with the editor.  The editor might not have noticed the reason, and might agree with you.  This is the single most important thing about editing:  TALK TO YOUR EDITOR!  Don’t make snide comments to your critique group about the “stupid” letter, or say that your editor “just doesn’t understand.”  Words can quickly get to the wrong person and they can sting.  Most of all, don’t think of your manuscript as “your baby.”  It’s a product, and the edits could well make it infinitely better than you could have ever imagined it to be.  That’s the beauty of a professional editor.

Now, once you have made all of the edits you plan to make, the editor will pass the book to the “copy editor” for grammar, spelling and fact checking.  Hopefully, there will be little to do after the editor finishes, but sometimes with historical or ethnic pieces, you might have to justify a turn of phrase or word usage as being “in period.”  Again, you will be expected to make the changes and return the completed manuscript to the publisher in a set time period.  Occasionally, the copy editor will catch a plot error that neither you or the editor caught.  They generally will only mention the concern, and leave it to the editor and author to decide what to do with it.  We had such an occasion when a briefcase was emptied and put in a car trunk, only to reappear in the hero’s hand a chapter later!  Oops!

Finally, the book will be typeset and printed in the format that it will actually appear to the reader (both electronically and in print).  Yes, it’s time for one more round of edits — the “galley” edits.  These edits are probably the most critical, because you are looking at exactly what the reader will see.  The primary things you are looking for are typographical errors, and “wrap” errors (having the word at the end of one line, or one page, not match up with the word at the beginning of the next line.)  Something like the following can happen:

 “After lunch, Betty drove to the police station to talk to Lieutenant Smith.”

can become:

“After lunch, Betty drove to the police station to

Lieutenant Smith.”

You see what happened?  The words, “to talk” accidentally got dropped out, because the typesetter grabbed the words after the second instance of the word, “to.”  This is very distracting to a reader, because they have no idea what words are missing.  Did the author mean “to talk” or “to kill” or “to make love to”?  It will eventually become moot, because Betty talks to Lt. Smith in the next chapter, but the reader will always wonder. If it happens too often, the reader will become frustrated and might not finish the book.  So, make SURE that when you review the galleys, you look for things like this!

Next time, we’ll discuss “writing to proposal”, or what happens when the publisher wants a SEQUEL!


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Once a book has been accepted for publication, some authors think that all they must do is wait and watch the money roll in.  But many successful authors understand that books, like any other product on a retail shelf, require marketing and publicity.  “Hmm,” you say, “But aren’t marketing and publicity the same thing?”  Not quite.  Publicity is what is known as “passive” selling.  You mention the name of the thing you’re selling, such as on a television commercial and, if your message was well received, sales will increase.  Marketing is “active” selling.  It’s the equivalent of an appearance by a political candidate in a town versus flooding the television with paid advertising.  They both may say the same thing, but the message from the in-person event stays with the listener (buyer) better because it’s attached to a tactile memory.  Such is one of the reasons for book signings.  A book signing is similar to a candidate’s stumping tour.  The author is using their presence at the reader’s location (along with the lure of their signature on a copy of the book) to sell the product.  For some readers who have never purchased or read a book by a particular author, the appearance of that author in their home town can cause them to pick up a copy, even if for the sole purpose of getting a valuable autograph (or one which might one day become valuable.)  If the author is lucky, the reader will actually read the book being signed and a new fan will emerge who will spread the word about the book.  Therefore, book signings are one of the best ways to market your book.

A form of publicity is the printing or posting of reviews.  But reviews are also a form of marketing.  Authors and publishers market the book to the publication to read and comment on.  If a good review is obtained, the end result is publicity for the book as readers see the review posted by the same person or publication that recommended other books they enjoy.  Naturally, this is a double-edged sword, since if the review isbad it is negative publicity.  Of course, if a book is widely panned by the critics, sometimes that can result in a form of cult following, such as with the recent movie Gigli.  The reviews were SO bad that people who might never have noticed it went out of their way to watch it, just to compare notes.  An author’s publisher definitely has the advantage in finding publications to obtain reviews from.  They often print out dozens, hundreds or even thousands of copies of a book, called ARCs (Advance Reading Copy), months before the release date, for the sole purpose of distributing them to reviewers.  By printing copies early, the reviewer has time to fit the reading into a schedule and produce a review at or just before the release.  It does little good to produce a review that precedes the release by months, because readers can’t purchase it and will forget about it by the time the book is on the shelf.  Therefore, such things are carefully timed.  An author can often assist the publisher by finding venues to review the book that are outside the normal publications.  Internet reading groups are a prime example of this.  An author can search for reading groups that enjoy the particular type of book the author has written, and request a review.  Not only will the author obtain valuable publicity, but it is to the precise market that the author hopes to gather fans from.

Another form of marketing are goodies.  Everybody knows what goodies are, even if they haven’t heard the name.  These are bookmarks printed with the book cover or author’s name and snippets about the book, magnets with cute sayings, t-shirts with quotes from a book’s main character, etc.  Purchase or preparation of goodies for distribution to fans are tangible reminders of a book after an author has left a signing, or can substitute for an appearance at a convention or event.  While the publisher will probably create some goodies, the author can definitely benefit by creating some of their own to hand out.  The small expense is worth it in the long run.

Conventions are extremely useful publicity.  They are meeting places for fans and authors and often authors will speak about their book, answer questions, or offer workshops or seminars on the business of writing.  Sometimes well-known authors will perform readings of an upcoming book which the public is waiting to read.  All of these things are beneficial publicity for both the author and his/her books.  They should be carefully planned so that their scarcity creates value.  If the same excerpt that is being read is widely distributed, nobody will appear at the reading.  The reader won’t care.  It’s the exclusive nature of the event that creates buzz in the public.  The publisher might schedule some convention appearances, but it’s the author’s choice to either be or not be accessible to the reading public.  Some authors prefer not to be public figures, which is their right, and most readers respect that choice.  Others are more open and active partners with the readers in creation of their books.  Neither is wrong. It just depends on the author’s preference.

These are a few ways that an author can increase the sell-through of their book, by constantly keeping the book in the public’s eye. Every new appearance of the book title or a review, or the cover image can be seen by a new reader, and in the short-term business of selling books, every time you can catch the eye of a casual buyer, is a time when you might find a new fan.

Next week, we’ll discuss the author’s responsibilities in the editing process of a purchased manuscript.


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What is an advance?  Well, simply put, an advance is money that a publisher pays to an author up front, before a single book is published and available for sale.

Every aspiring author hopes one day to receive such a large advance from a publisher that they can retire and write full-time.  You hear tales of Stephen King being offered $48 million for his next book, and J.K. Rowling being the second richest woman in England (Madonna is the first — Queen Elizabeth II is third.)  So if that much money is floating around, why isn’t anyone offering it to you?

The answer to this is simple. A publisher offers as an advance what they believe sales of the book would pay the author anyway.  Yep, you’ve got it.  The publisher expects that Stephen King’s next book will earn HIM (not the publisher – Stephen personally) $48 million dollars.  Because he’s a famous author, he probably makes 15%-20% of the retail price on his books as his cut.  So if he makes $48 million, then the publisher earns four times that amount!

That leads back to the same question: How does the publisher figure out how much will be made?  Frankly, it’s a calculated guess.  Those people hired to be Acquisitions Editors work closely with marketing to determine how well they anticipate a book will sell.  Of course, there is always the break-out hit, like Harry Potter, but there are far more books published where the publisher loses their proverbial shirt.  Here are some of the things that a publisher has to consider when preparing a cost analysis for a manuscript:

  1. Cost to print – Included in the cost to print a book are the items you would expect to see: Paper, ink, cover art (and by extension, a cover artist) and the cover. Additionally, if a book is hard cover, then the slip jacket is included.  The printer is normally a separate company not owned by the publisher, so there is the profit of the printer to include as well.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to electronic offerings, which is why e-publishers are able to offer higher royalties.
  2. Cost to Edit – Everyone involved in the editing process — from the acquisitions editor, to the managers, copy editors, typesetters, management and receptionists — must be paid wages, insurance, vacation, etc.  Payment of all of these items must be spread among the various books and added to the cover price of the book.
  3. Cost to Promote – Promotion of a book includes printing of Advance Reading Copies (“ARCs”) to send to magazines and newspapers for early reviews.  Print advertising, television or radio spots, the cost of book signings and the wages of everyone in the marketing department are also added to the tab.  Promotion of a book, especially for a new author, is vital.  But realistically, publishers often spend more money on sure bets.  Stephen King and J.K. Rowling will receive more promotion dollars than Joe Shmoe off the street, because it’s likely that the money will be returned in book sales.  Unfortunately, it’s much like that old saying: “You can only get a loan if you don’t need one.” Sometimes, however, an editor will be so excited about a book that it will go hog-wild on promotion.  The publisher of “The Lovely Bones”, for example, printed 10,000 ARCs and made personal calls to reviewers to get the book to the top of their reading stack.  Extra effort like this often results in the book making it to one or several Best Sellers Lists.
  4. Cost of remainders/returns . Depending on the imprint the book is assigned to, the AE will determine how many books they think they can sell with the minimum of effort.  Category romance or horror, for example, has a guaranteed market of book club members.  Much like Columbia House Music, readers have a monthly subscription to receive 2-4 books every single month.  The publisher knows that they will have an immediate sell-through of these books.  But there are also book store purchases to consider.  Category romance doesn’t do as well in bookstores, because those who read them likely are members of the book club.  With a publisher offering 3-4 titles every month, a book store would quickly run out of room to hold all of the books.  So, they often have “expiration dates,” just like milk and bread.  As new books come in, old books go out.  But this impacts sales, because the bookstore doesn’t keep the books it doesn’t sell.  They become “remainders” or “returns.”  When a group of books doesn’t sell, the publisher may sometimes take them back, in the case of hardbacks, or direct the store to destroy them, in the case of paperbacks.  Why?  Because it costs more in shipping costs than the book is worth if it hasn’t sold.   So, if a book is returned or destroyed, the cost of printing, and salary, and promotion is lost.  The AE must decide how many books they anticipate being returned and add it to the expense category.

With the rare exceptions like King and Rowling, most publishers anticipate that a book will sell-through 10,000-30,000 copies for a profit to an author of $3,000-$15,000.  This is called a “mid-list.” These sales keep the publisher afloat, pay the salaries and electric bill, but the real profit comes from the Kings and Rowlings of the world.  These pay the Holiday bonuses and make the shareholders happy. Many items go into determining how well a new author will do.  If the book is cutting-edge, unique or just plain brilliant, then word-of-mouth will take over once casual readers have picked it up and told their friends.  The AE will often recognize this and offer an author an advance close to the upper end of the mid-list scale. But if a book is good, and may eventually get a following, they will offer the author a bit less of an advance, toward the bottom of the mid-list.  Sometimes, it takes more than one book to get readers interested, so publishers will purchase a “sequel” or follow-up book from the same author. This ensures that the publisher might get a second shot at selling the first book once readers get interested in the second.

Single-title books (or books not written for a category) make all of their sales in bookstores, and on the internet, which has become a prime market for publishers.  Where a category book will earn an author a $3,000-$5,000 advance, single-title books can sell for a higher price and, therefore, the publisher can afford to pay a higher advance, closer to $5,000-$15,000.

Does it mean that the publisher isn’t a good publisher if it doesn’t offer an advance?  Not at all.  Many publishers sell many books without offering an advance.  This is especially true with e-books.  Because of the lower cost of the book to produce, the author makes quite a bit more, and in many cases, earns the same amount that a print publisher would have paid as an advance. But the process is slower, since the author must wait until the monthly or quarterly accounting to receive the money, instead of having it up front.

Will an author ever see money beyond an advance?  Sometimes but, frankly, not as often as you would think.  While the structure is there in the contract to pay royalties to the author, actually paying back the advance (no, an author won’t see money until the advance is repaid) usually doesn’t happen.

Next week, we’ll discuss how you, as the author can improve the chances to SELL-THROUGH your title!

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    An Acquisitions Editor wears a number of hats, as discussed in our first article (shown below).  First and foremost in their job description is purchasing manuscripts that will do two things:

  1. Sell enough books to make a profit; and
  2. Provide the buying public with a book that is of equal or better quality to the other books on the shelf.

    Let’s take a look at the elements of #1 first.  How does a book make a profit?  The answer to this is the same as any other business.  The sales price, less expenses, equals profit.  Expenses for a book include:  The cost of paper, ink, wages, taxes and insurance for the editor, copy editor, cover artist, secretaries, receptionists, and the publisher.  Then there is overhead such as office supplies, copiers, telephone and computer systems, etc., that are necessary to run the company.  Other outside consultants or employees can include attorneys, accountants, freelance editors or artists for overflow and interns just starting in the business.  Only after the author’s royalties, and all of these other things are paid can there be a “profit.” The publisher expects to make a profit with each book, although they don’t always succeed because they have to anticipate buyer tastes.

    Many publishers produce a certain “feel” of book that satisfies readers time and again.  Because they specialize only in a certain genre, such as romance, mystery, science-fiction/fantasy, or westerns, each manuscript they purchase must have the same feel as the other books that precede it.  In submitting a manuscript to a publisher, it is important that you are familiar with other books produced by that same company.  If the work is groundbreaking and unlike anything on the market today (think Harry Potter), then finding it a home can be quite simple, or maddeningly difficult.  Your goal is to produce a manuscript of such quality that they can concentrate on being WOWED by your story.

    This brings us to what editors look for in a manuscript:

  1. A manuscript should be as close to final, copyedited form as possible from DAY 1!  The fact is that if an editor is presented with two manuscripts of similar quality they will choose the path of least resistance.  If one manuscript is nearly perfect in both construction and plot, and the other only has promise of being exceptional, but will take a lot of work to polish, they will choose the easier of the two.  Editors, artists and typesetters are busy people.  Each of them is working on ten to twenty books at any one time.  Any single book that slows down the process is a liability.  What does this mean?  The manuscript should be 95% free of typographical and spelling errors.  Every sentence should be grammatically correct, including dialogue.  All possible dialogue tags (he said/she said) should be eliminated, and the plot, characters and storyline should be seamless.  Too many writers mistakenly think, “Well, my spelling isn’t very good, but that’s what an editor is for. They’ll overlook that.”  Wrong!  They won’t.
  2. A manuscript should be as close to the target length as possible.  ALWAYS read the submission guidelines for a publisher.  If the guidelines request books of 80,000-100,000 words, you will not sell them a book that is 60,000, regardless of how brilliant it is.  You might get luckier with a 120,000 word manuscript, because it can be pared down.
  3. A manuscript should be COMPLETED before you query the submission.  There are seasoned authors who can “write to proposal”, or produce a quality product based only on a synopsis. But the publisher has no way of knowing if you’re one of them.  One of the worst impressions you can make on an editor is to offer a query and synopsis that interests them, only to later admit that it will take five months to complete.  By that time, the editor will have already purchased the remaining books for the following year and be starting to edit the first.  And trust me — they WILL remember you when you knock on the door again.  You just won’t be remembered fondly.

    In the next article, we’ll discuss how an editor puts together a Cost Analysis to determine how much money to offer an author!

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A tutorial for the aspiring author

Many beginning writers get confused at the business side of writing.  Since writing is a very personal part of a writer’s creative nature, it’s hard to think of a manuscript created by sweat, blood and love in the same category as a pair of shoes or a box of pasta on the shelf.  And yet, to a publisher, a book is precisely that — a product created for the sole purpose of making money.

Publishers hire editors for one purpose — to make sure that the product on the shelf sells well and makes a profit.  It’s in the best interests of the publisher to purchase manuscripts that create loyal customers who return to their books again and again.  In order to do this, the industry has created a variety of layers within the editing process.  The first part of this article will focus on the generalized roles of editors in the book industry.

  1. The Acquisitions Editor.  The acquisitions editor (AE) position at a publisher is a very difficult job.  It is their task to read hundreds or thousands of manuscripts a year, seeking manuscripts that will both sell well and shine a good light on the publisher for quality.  There is no question that an AE’s personal tastes will flavor their purchases.  Very likely, those tastes are why that person was hired.  Usually, there is an AE for each “line” at a publisher.  A line, or imprint, is a brand within a single company.  Just like Hershey produces crunch bars and caramel bars and almond bars, so a publisher creates different brands to sell to different customer tastes.  At some companies, there is a hierarchy within the AE slot, so that an associate AE finds interesting manuscripts and passes them to a supervisor, or Managing Editor, who collects all of the interesting manuscripts from several associates and decides on the ones that best fit the line.  At other companies, the AE is the final word on what the publisher purchases. What makes an interesting manuscript?  There are several aspects to buying a book that will be discussed in next week’s article.
  2. The Managing Editor.  The Managing Editor (ME) is tasked with a numbers game.  They are often responsible for deciding which manuscripts of the ones offered by the associates will have the best sell-through, or likelihood of returning a profit over and above their expenses.  They prepare a Cost Analysis (which have different names depending on the company) which shows the Publisher (the person, not the company as a whole) which manuscript will either cost the least to produce or give the best sell-through.  There are a number of factors which make up this cost analysis, which will be explained in later articles.  It is the Managing Editor who, after reviewing the numbers, makes an offer for the book, which includes the advance they are willing to make and the percentage of royalty paid to the author.
  3. The Book Editor.  The job of actually editing the book falls to a person who is known by a variety of names, including associate editor, assistant editor, and just plain “editor.” This person possesses the knack to read a book and catch places where the plot or characters aren’t believable.  This is extremely important to a publisher, because believability in a plot and sympathy for the characters — or the ability to sweep a reader into the story — is what sells books.  It’s the editor’s job to suggest changes to the book that create a seamless plot and rich characters.  In order to do this, parts of the proposed manuscript often must change, either because of plot holes that distract the reader, or two-dimensional characters  that frustrate the reader.  It’s important to note that reading has changed over the years.  It would be unlikely that many novels considered “classics” from by-gone ages would have been published or published in the same form that we see them.  Whether it is a good thing or bad, book editors today are faced with ensuring sales, not just producing the book as presented.
  4. The Copy Editor.  A copy editor is a language junkie.  Often they have degrees in language or literature, or both.  They are responsible for ensuring that proper grammar, composition, spelling and punctuation exist through the entire book.  The copy editor starts on a book once it has completed the primary editing process.  By this point, the plot should flow smoothly and the characters should be as good as they can be.  Then the “real” editing begins.  In some cases, a book editor also acts as an initial copy editor, by adjusting word choices and sentence structure so that it is technically correct.  In other cases, the book editor is only the plot editor, and the copy editor must start from scratch in cutting and re-wording dialogue and descriptions.  They will cut commas and add periods, halt run-on sentences and remove dangling participles.  Once completed, the manuscript will be both compelling and technically correct so that the reader isn’t distracted by errors that pull them away from the story.



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