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May 2010

A Good Book Starts With Research

A good book does not start with writing. It starts with research. As you begin your book writing journey, here are some things to consider.

1. Most of a writer's time is spent in study.

Much of a writer's time is spent reading through relevent materials available in other books, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, interviews, etc. And don't forget about the Internet, the worlds largest library. If you are planning on writing and publishing a book, you have an obligation to your audience, to your book, and to yourself to exhaust every possible source of information. 

2. Research will help you qualify your book writing project.

Once you begin to see what kind of information is out there, it is quite possible that your writing approach, direction and niche may change. Research has a stimulating effect and will help you qualify your project.

Louise Purwin Zobel, author of The Travel Writer's Handbook, cautioned writers to "never skimp on your research." She believed that "so-called writer's block is invariably the result of too little research," and "if you know enough, you won't have trouble filling as many pages as you want to."

And as noted author and historian, William Manchester once said, "I write to find out."

3. Start you book project with a "proposal."

Many writers begin with a book proposal - sort of a business plan for their books. They draft the back cover sales copy, and then a preliminary table of contents. Finally, they fill in the individual chapters. But as these writers research other books, articles, journals and interview sources, they learn more about their subject. Often, they discover new information, and the books take off in new directions.

4. Research is an on-going process.

Conducting research does not end when you begin writing. Rather, research should be an on-going process, concluding only when you have finished your written works. The more research you can do - the better your book will be.

Remember, writing is a research journey. You learn when you write.

[The above post was created from excerpts from Successful Nonfiction, written by Dan Poynter.]

Four Book WritingTips to Get Your Readers Past Page 18

It has been reported that most book buyers do not get past page 18 in a new book. They buy it, bring it home, begin reading, and then put it down. In order for your self-published book to be successful, it has to be exciting in the initial pages to keep your readers reading. Here are four book writing ideas that can help you keep your readers involved.

1. Use quotations.

Quotations can make your text more interesting, and your book seem more important. They are best used when they are placed nearby to reinforce your words. Bonnie Williamson, author of A First-Year Teacher's Guidebook, places quotations and other highlighted text in what she calls "pullouts." Her books are 8 1/2 x 11 inches with wide columns. Her pullouts, placed in the margins, make for fun reading and break up the text.

2. Use Anecdotes.

Professional speakers have long known that their audiences not only love stories, but these anecdotes are a terrific way to amplify a message. In fact, days later, the stories may be all the audience may remember. The same can hold true for books. One reason why stories work effectively is because they go directly to the brain and entertain, and do not require the mental processing more formal writing requires. So, as you are collecting facts and quotations in the research of your book, collect illustrative stories as well, to use later as possible anecdotes.

3. Use Humor.

Occasional humor (note the word occasional) can make your writing more fun to read. But beware, humor can be one of the most difficult writing forms to master. Humor is more effective when the punch line is a complete surprise. So, if you are going to inject humor into your self-published book, try to catch your reader off guard. A good suggestion is to look at other books to see how authors have used and positioned humor.

4. Add illustrations.

Photographs, drawings, graphs, maps and charts can illustrate, amplify and explain your words. People are more likely to buy your book if you can stimulate their minds with both words and pictures. And yes, "One picture is worth a thousand words." (Fred R. Barnard)

So, as you research and compose your first draft, remember that using quotations, anecdotes, humor and illustrations, if not overdone, can make your self-published book more important, informative, entertaining, memorable, and enjoyable. In other words, they can make your book more readable.

[The above post was created from excerpts from Successful Nonfiction, written by Dan Poynter.]

Rewriting Your Manuscript - Beware of the Hazards

"Even though you typed "THE END" when you finished a first draft, your work is only beginning." That is some sound advice from Anita Nolan in her article on refining your manuscript.

Writing a good book is not just a matter of having a good idea. Nor is it a matter of just putting your good ideas down on paper. More often than not, it is about the very trying process of rewriting and tightening what you have written. And herein lies a hazard.

The trick in rewriting is to make your manuscript better, not worse. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it. However, one of the biggest mistakes writers can make is too much rewriting. Rewriting portions of text too many times can cause the words to lose their spontaneity and become wooden. The writing can become dull and unimpassioned.

The rewrite and tightening process involves choosing better words, clarifying thoughts and cutting repetition. Here's a simple rule: "When in doubt, cut it out." For many writers, this is easier said than done because they often can become overly attached to their words. Eliminating some of your words is not easy.

Remember, the value of a book is in the weight of its message, not in the weight of its pages. To make this book editing task easier, try asking yourself these three questions regarding each sentence, paragraph and word you have written:

  • First, can this be written more aptly?
  • Second, can this be written more briefly?
  • Third, do I need to write this at all?

Write tightly. Eliminate any parts that you believe people will skip over. Shorter is often better, and less is often more. Search for what needs to be cut - and cut it.

[This post was created from excerpts from Successful Nonfiction, by Dan Poynter.]

The Importance of Your Book's Spine And Some Smart Self-Publishing Guidelines to Follow

The spine of your book cover may be more important than you think. Here is the reason.

In a store where your book is going to be sold, it is likely that it will be displayed spine-out only. The reason is that there is just not enough room (or the store will not commit to the room) on the shelves for face-out stocking. Initially, all the potential buyers are likely to see is the spine of your book.

Today, technology allows us to stack the characters on the spine, making the book title easier to read. Now it is no longer necessary to make the book browsers tilt their heads to one side. To make your book spine stand out, here are some smart guidelines to follow.

  • Keep the spine simple and uncluttered.
  • Limit the information to the necessary: the title, the last name of the author, and maybe a symbol to catch the eye.
  • Print the title on the spine, but leave off the subtitle unless it is short and is needed to explain the book.
  • Make the spine type as large and as bold as possible.
  • Do not use reverses (white on a dark color) unless you use large block white letters on a very dark background.
  • Do not use script, thin characters or any typestyle that is hard to read.

And remember, you are very familiar with your title and would recognize it even if it were written backwards. However, your potential buying public is not. It's important that they need to be able to read your title easily.

[ The above post was created from excerpts from Writing Nonficition, by Dan Poynter.]

Royalty Publishing, Vanity Publishing, Self-Publishing - What are the Differences?

There are several different publishing options available to writers, and the terms used to identify each option can often be confusing. In this post, we will try to "simplify" one type of publishing from another. To begin with, let's break the book publishing options into three main categories: royalty publishing, vanity publishing, and self-publishing.

What is royalty publishing?

A traditional, royalty publisher buys the rights to a book from an author for a fee. From that point on, the author is rarely involved in the design, production or distribution of the book. The writer invests only time (not money) and, in return, receives a small percentage (royalty) of the book's revenues. However, the author's investment in time does not end with writing. If the author is serious about reaching a meaningful audience, he or she must be prepared to actively promote the book.

What is vanity publishing?

A vanity publisher usually charges the writer for various publishing services such as editing, book design, printing, distribution and promotion, often "bundling" such services in a package. In most instances, the author retains all book rights. To look at a more complete list of services, you might like to check out one of our earlier posts titled, Searching for a Book Publisher? Use This 20-Point Checklist.

With a vanity publisher, the writer is investing both time and money. But a word of caution: unless he or she has a ready-made audience and promotes successfully, the investment may be difficult to recover. At the same time, for writers who have limited computer skills or limited time, it can make sense to use a company that can offer a spectrum of publication services.

Many people confuse vanity publishing with self-publishing. A general rule of thumb: if you are paying an upfront fee for publishing services to a single vendor, you are probably not self-publishing.

What is self-publishing?

A self-publisher typically hires his or her own editor, book designer, printer and distributor, compensating each separately. In some instances, authors may have the skills and personal resources to perform some of these tasks themselves. The author invests both time and money, but retains the profits - usually much more per book than paid by traditional publishers.

In conclusion, here are three key ways to distinguish self-publishing from royalty and vanity publishing.

  1. Follow the money. Vanity publishers make most of their money from fees paid by authors, rather than from book sales.
  2. Book rights. Royalty publishers expect a grant of rights from the author; vanity publishers usually do not; and self-publishers, of course, retain all rights.
  3. ISBN. With royalty and vanity publishing, the ISBN assigned to a new book usually belongs to them, not the author. They are the "publishers of record." There may be some exceptions, but generally speaking, if your book's ISBN isn't registered to you, you are not self-publishing.

[The above post was created from excerpts from U-Publish.com 5.0, co-written by Dan Poynter and Danny O. Snow.]

Six Ways To Get Your Self-Published Book Cover Noticed

Vitaly Firedman, in his article about Excellent Book Covers and Paperbacks, makes these two very true observations. "Book covers are hard to design and nice to look at," and "An effective book cover manages to catch the human eye and convey the idea behind the book on one single page."

In order for your book to get noticed, your self-published book's front cover needs to stand out. It must be easy to read and uncluttered. The book title should be the focus. Most importantly, your book's front cover should make a prospective reader (buyer) want to pick up your book to see what it is all about. The front cover needs to display your title, subtitle, author's name and a related illustration with impact. Think of your front cover as a billboard for your book.

Here are some self-publishing guidelines designed to help you create a winning front book cover.

  • Title placement: Put the book title near the top of the cover. You never know, but your book may wind up being displayed on a rack with only the top one-third of the front cover peeking over the book in front of it.
  • Title appearance: Do not print the book title on a busy background. I will be hard to see. Instead, place your title in a clear space or strip in a plain background.
  • Author's name: Use just the author's name on the cover. Do not add the word "by." If there is a name on the front cover, it must be the name of the author. The only exception is when the author is an organization or when two or more people made significantly different contributions to the book.
  • Hype: Some books include a line of hype, but this addition will not be necessary if your book title and book subtitle tell the story.
  • Stickers: Sometimes an author encounters new information after the books are printed. For example, the book may win an award or be recognized in some way. To add value to the book, it's not uncommon to have gold-foil stickers printed to hand-apply to the covers.
  • Illustrations: Use original art and match the art outside with the action inside. Make your book recognizable to its intended readers. Here are some great examples: The End of Wall Street has a photo of Wall Street, Trivia Crosswords has a crossword puzzle design, and Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids is in orange and black.

And here are a couple of things to avoid when creating your book's front cover.

  • Background color: Avoid black. A black background can show smudges, scratches and fingerprints.
  • Date: Avoid putting the date in the title or anywhere on the cover ("3rd Edition" would be preferred over "2010 Edition"). Putting a date on the cover can age a book before its time.

Following these guidelines should go a long way in helping you create a front cover that meets all of the objectives you want (and need) your cover to achieve.

[The above post was created from excerpts from Writing Nonfiction by Dan Poynter.]


The Book Publishing Business Died Last Week

The book publishing business died last week. The economic meltdown was the meteorite that hit the dinosaur right in the forehead. The only surprise is that traditional publishing lasted as long as it did.

The firings of industry leaders, mass layoffs at top publishers, and the decision of at least one other major publisher to cease accepting new book proposals for consideration - taken together - indicate the end of the influence of the major publishers. Sure, they'll be there to push celebrity books into a celebrity-minded public, through book outlets like Wal-Mart and your local supermarket. But the busines that began with editors who loved books and published what they wanted is vanishing, a victim of its own inability to find a reason for being in the Internet and the print-on-demand (POD) world.

The firings are an immediate result of the plunging economy, but the death of traditional publishing is really self-inflicted.

  • Is there any other industry that chooses its newest offerings on the basis of the collective whim of a group of people (acquisition editors) with practically no business experience?
  • Is there any other industry that pushes out thousands of new products a year, but offers marketing support to only a handful?

Twenty years ago, publishers spoke of an 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the book marketing dollars went to 20 percent of the books. Today, the rule is more like 90-10 or even 99-1. If Dr. Phil is publishing a new book in the same promotion as a first-time author, Dr. Phil will get all the book marketing dollars, and the new author will get crumbs.

Thank goodness that new and lesser-known writers and authors have an alternative.

[The above post was created from excerpts from The Self-Publishing Manual - Volume 2 by Dan Poynter.]