Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Self-Publish a Coloring Book

Pencil Drawing

Publishing a coloring book seems like it might be a fun thing to do. I saw an article on eHow [1] in which Lesley Barker gave a process for doing it, starting with purchasing ISBNs from Bowker. From there, the article pretty much gave the general self-publishing process, with the exception of number two, which said to scan your artwork into the computer and save it as a jpeg. Lesley Barker’s article falls well short of a complete description of what must be done to publish a coloring book. Obtaining an ISBN and selecting a publishing company (a choice that will determine whether you even need to purchase an ISBN or not) are the least of your worries if you plan to publish a coloring book.

Ink Tracing of Pencil Drawing

The heart of a coloring book are the pictures. Creating a coloring book isn’t as simple as grabbing some of the free coloring sheets you find online and binding them in a book. Not only would it be illegal for you to copy these images without permission, many of these images may be made freely available illegally. A number of these free coloring sheets include iconic figures from Disney and other companies. To use images like that in your book, you should expect to pay a licensing fee.

If you don’t want to pay fees for artwork, you will have to produce the artwork yourself. You may wish to start with a pencil, but you’ll want to trace the image with a thick black pen like a Sharpie before you finish. Scan the black outline with a flatbed scanner, using the lowest resolution you have. On mine, it is 75 dpi. Yeah, I realize printers want 300 dpi or better, but we aren’t ready for that.

Inkscape Drawing From Ink Tracing
Drag the scanned image into a new Inkscape image and use the Bitmap Trace utility to trace the image. With the high contrast, the default settings will probably be sufficient, but make any adjustments you need. Get rid of the scanned image in Inkscape and you will have the tracing left. Use the Edit Paths by Nodes tool to clean up the tracing and save it as a .emf file. When you setup the book, just drop that file onto one of the pages and you will have one page complete.

To prove it works, I’m providing a link to a Free Coloring Sheet pdf file.
I encourage you to print the pdf file and examine how smooth the lines are compared to what you would accomplish by hand tracing alone.

To finish your book, complete the same process about 50 more times, embed the emf files in a pdf document and send it off to the printer. You will want to do more cleanup in Inkscape than I did, but then I'm not expecting anyone to pay me for this. If I were going to publish a book like this, I would plan on each page taking several hours to complete or even a few days.

If you are interested in this, you may also be interested in, Book Cover Design Wizardry, a book that explains how to design a book cover for your book.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Only Bonnets and Bonnets Only

Nick Harrison made an interesting comment on his blog concerning an author he rejected a few years back, “Alas, Harvest House has not had much success with genre fiction (other than Amish historical romance), so I had to say no.”[1] Realizing that I have a few books at home with Harvest House on the spine and knowing that I don’t read Amish historical romance, I kind of wondered at this. So, to satisfy my curiosity, I went over to to see what Harvest House had to offer. The first seven books they displayed were Amish and so were the last two of the remaining five. What were the other three? All were books written by Lori Wick, including The Princess, a book that I own.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I’m sure the folks over at Harvest House are scratching their heads as much as I am, wondering why Amish is the only thing they can manage to do. It becomes almost comical when you do a search for Harvest House books that aren’t Amish. Ten of the first twelve are by Lori Wick. You can have a great career writing books for Harvest House if you write Amish books or your name is Lori Wick. It really got funny when I tried searching for books at Harvest House that aren’t Amish and aren’t by Lori Wick. The result kept coming back “Your search did not match any products.” I did eventually get it to work, but the list was still heavily loaded with pastels and those that weren’t didn’t look particularly interesting.

I wonder if the problem Harvest House has is that they have begun to believe that they can’t do succeed with anything except bonnet fiction. If we examine what Nick Harrison said, he rejected an author because she presented him with something other than bonnet fiction. It’s a catch-22. You can’t succeed if you don’t try, but you don’t want to try if you haven’t succeeded. If their covers are anything to go by, Harvest House is putting all of their energy into Amish fiction and taking limited risks away from that, hoping that the risk will pay off. But the risk doesn’t pay off, in part because the best authors are looking for publishers that will do a better job promoting the book and in part because they aren’t putting enough into the books to make them stand out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Great Place For Writers to Submit Their Work

All you folks out there who have been looking for a place to submit your work, you really need to check out this site.

I considered waiting a couple of months to post this, but I felt it just couldn't wait.

Writing in a Crowded Market

Sometimes I hate While you can’t find every book on the planet there, they come close enough. I sometimes peruse their stacks to see what other authors are writing in my topic area. I’ll see a book and think, “I was going to write about that.” I’ll look at the one next to it, “well there’s another one.” You don’t have to look at very long to realize that all the good topics are already taken—and most of the not so good topics. Let’s face it, with over 1 million new books published every year, every topic has to be covered by someone.

But what does that mean to those of us who have chosen to join this fray? Other writers aren’t going to politely defer to us so that we can write our book. Nor can we defer to them. What that means is that we are going to find ourselves writing books that have significant overlap with what other authors say about the same subject.

It isn’t what you say, but how you say it. You’ve heard that all your life, but it is no more evident than when we are talking about books. One of my interests is technology books. There are thousands of books written about web technology. Search for “Facebook” in books on and it will come back with 2,395 results alone. It is only 1,676 if we limit it to printed books, but it is still a large number. Not all of those are actually about Facebook, but that hardly matters. If you have something to say about Facebook, you have plenty of company. The thing that make one book stand out from the other is not that they have something to say about Facebook but how they address the subject of Facebook. One talks about the inside story of Facebook. Another talks about Facebook marketing. Another is a guide to Facebook. Another talks about building Facebook applications. At a high level, they are all about Facebook, but they each have a different audience.

There are still 381 books on the topic of Facebook applications. If you have something to say in this arena, you have a better chance of success, but it is far from guaranteed. At this level of refinement, I think much of your success will depend on how well you say what you have to say. Just because someone else has written about a topic doesn’t mean that they have conveyed that information as well as they could. It also doesn’t mean that they have covered it completely. There is always an opportunity for us to explain things so that people retain the information better than they do with another author or to explore things that other authors haven’t considered.

Of course, that means that we have to be cognizant of what other authors are saying. We can’t blindly write about a subject because we have learned something. For all you know, you could be the last person who needs to learn the information. Everyone else may already know it. Why waste time telling people things they already know? But if we look at what other authors are writing, we may find that no one else is writing about what we have learned. That gives us the opportunity to share that information.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's Here!

My latest book is now available on It is called Book Cover Design Wizardry:For the Self-Publishing Author. This book give detailed instructions on how you or anyone else can create a book cover for very little money. In fact, the primary tools are free. This book is printed in full color with more than 250 illustrations.

What Makes a Great Self-Publishing Project?

What makes a great self-publishing project? Novels typically don’t. We know that the most successful self-publishing projects are usually those in which the author is a speaker and can sell his books at the back of the room. Well, a friend told me about another kind of project that seems like it would make a great self-publishing project.

He told me that his mother works in children’s ministry at church. As part of the ministry, she make use of puppets. She has been writing her own scripts—hundreds of them—and giving them out to other people to use. I believe this makes a great self-publishing project because the work of writing the scripts is already done or would be done anyway as a part of her ministry. All that really needs to be done is for someone to bind them in books and make them available for people to buy. The editing is already done. There is no need for her to try to convince a publisher to take on the project. She can put the scripts out there for very little cost to her and see if people are interested. If they are, great! She has made some money for from the work she is doing. If not. What has she lost? She would have created the scripts anyway.

Opportunities like that don’t present themselves every day. A few bloggers encounter that, but how nice it is when we can find a way to make money from content we would be generating whether we were selling it or not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What's Next?

What’s next?

For the first time in a long time, I’ve finished a project without knowing for sure what I want to do next. Perhaps that is the problem with finishing a project so quickly. I didn’t have time to think about projects I would like to be working on instead. So, I’m not sure what I’ll be writing next.

I think I would like to try my hand at mystery. I’ve always loved a good mystery and I’ve got a plot that is beginning float around in my head. I would also like to finish out Sara’s series. It currently has four books in it, but I want one more. I started one last year, but it seemed too weak and I put it aside. I want to finish the series strong.

Maybe now is the time to just let thing simmer for a while and then go to work on what floats to the top.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are You Finished?

Are you finished? Finishing a project is such a strange thing. I think it is especially strange with self-publishing. I recently finished another book or perhaps you can say that that I’m in the process of finishing it. I had some time away from my regular job around Christmas, so I made use of that time to write. It is amazing how much you can accomplish when you have eighteen hours a day that you can use for whatever you want. I didn’t spend all of that time writing, but enough of it that it gave me a good start. Then in the days that followed that, I used whatever time I could find to continue the project. It was all just hard work. There were things that needed to be done. I finished the first draft and I started on the cover. It took me a good 36 hours of labor to complete the cover. I figure that means I saved myself at least $500 by doing it myself, but at last, I finished it. I went through the book, correcting the mistakes I found. Then I created the PDF files from the cover design and the book block. I went through several iterations of doing that because the preflight evaluation kept coming back with problems. At last, I got it down to two problems that I figured weren’t going to cause any real issue in printing. It took me a few minutes to realize it, but I was done. The next step was to send the files off to the printer.

We reach that point where there is nothing more that needs to be done, and yet we’re sitting there trying to think of what more should be done. Finishing is such an abrupt thing. There’s all this work to do and then there is none. Oh, there will be more that I have to do. Because this project is so dependent on graphics, I may have to make some adjustments when I get the proof copy and I’ll want to do some things to promote the book, but I’ve reached that point where I can sit down and relax, read a book or watch television and not have to worry that my writing project isn’t getting done.

And it really is such an odd feeling to finish a book this early in the year. I’ve got nearly a whole year that I don’t have to worry that I won’t finish a book this year. That really is such an arbitrary thing, but it does give one a sense of accomplishment.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Me and My Big Mouth

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t keep my big mouth shut. On Sunday, I got into a short discussion with writers Cheryl Hodd and Diann Hunt over the use of stock photos on their website. Diann seemed to take it fairly well, but I got the impression that Cheryl was a little upset with me. The thing is, I could’ve gone on my merry way without saying a word and not upset either one of them.

But here’s the thing, there seems to be a misunderstanding about the use of stock images. Most of the stock images you find online fall into a category that is known as royalty free. The confusion is that people seem to think that because the image is royalty free they don’t have to pay for it. That is not the case. Royalty free means that licensed users of the image don’t have to pay royalties. In other words, once they have purchased the image, they can use the image as many times as they like without having pay any additional fees. If you were to use such an image on a book, you could print 100 or 1 million copies of the book and not have to pay the photographer any more than you already have. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for the image and there aren’t restrictions.

For the purpose of this blog post, I purchased the image you see above. Notice that the image doesn’t have the Getty Images watermark that is a telltale sign that an image was obtained incorrectly. I paid $5 for this image. The size of the image makes it useful for blog posts and little else. But when I purchased the image I had to agree to five pages worth of a licensing agreement. One of the stipulations of the agreement is that if I use it on a website that I state that the image may not be copied for any purpose other than personal use. (You are so informed.) In other words, you can view my website, which requires a copy be made of the image onto your machine, but you may not reuse the image for your own purposes.

There are things in the agreement about what I can and cannot use the image for. It is ironic that one of the things is that the image cannot be used for pornographic purposes, since some of the images on Getty Images are pornographic, but that’s beside the point. What you should take from this is that you need to be aware that if you are using artwork created by another person you probably owe them some money. As authors, we should understand that better than most people. We write our books and we hope that people will pay us for our work. And to the person who took that picture, just in case you happen to read this post, I want to say that I am happy to give you whatever money you receive out of the five dollars in hopes that it will encourage you to keep producing artwork for the rest of us to use.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Which E-mail God Do You Serve?

Sitting there among your new e-mail messages, you see a name you don’t recognize. And though the wording is always different it is always the same, “I need your advice.” What do you do?

I ask that as a rhetorical question. Of course, you respond to it. It’s the right thing to do. You don’t turn your back on someone asking for help. And yet, that is exactly what we see happen so often. I’ve lost count of how many blog posts I’ve read in which a literary agent is arguing that he/she shouldn’t be expected to respond to every e-mail and query they receive. While their logic sounds correct, are they right?

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus used to address the question of “who is my neighbor?” We know that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, but who is our neighbor? We usually call this the parable of the good Samaritan. A man fell among thieves and was in great need, lying half dead on the side of the road. First, a priest came, but seeing the man, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite looked on him and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan came, bound his wounds, treated him with oil and wine and carried him to an inn to care for him. The next day, he left, but he left money with the host to care for the man and promised to provide more if needed.

Too many people worship money, the god of business rather than doing the right thing. What we notice about the good Samaritan is that he owed this man nothing and would get nothing in return, but he not only took time out of his journey but he willingly gave financially and committed himself to checking up on the man later. The doesn’t fit with this idea that the only people who have to respond to are clients who have gained that right because they are paying us.

I, like most authors, wish I could say that I receive a lot of e-mail from readers after they read my book. I don’t. I receive more e-mail from people who have never read any of my books and many of them never will. I don’t keep close track of my time, but I’ve sometimes spent many minutes or even hours trying answering one person’s e-mail, even though that person never bought a book or compensated me for that time. Just business? I think not.

Now, if I received more e-mail, I wouldn’t have as much time to address each question, so I might have to find ways to deal with it that didn’t require as much of my time, but the right thing to do is still to respond to each one. I won’t say that I respond to every e-mail I receive. I’m not perfect. But our policy should be to respond to every legitimate request we receive. Whether we are writers, literary agents, or publishers, we should never adopt the thinking that we don’t have an obligation to respond to people who aren’t paying us. Those who worship the money god do that, but we are to serve the living God who hears and responds to our every need.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Handling Nasty Reviews

Writing a post for Girls Write Out, Kristin Billerbeck recently wrote, "As any author with tell you, reviews can be unfair, scathing and downright rude. As a writer of frothy, romantic fiction, it does make me wonder how such things can make a reviewer angry, especially when they get the book for free, but angry, some of them are." She went on to suggest that publishers should "nix these reviewers from [their] cache" and to say that she doesn't read most of her reviews because they keep her from doing what God wants her to do. She states, "every book that gets published has SOMETHING worth saying or the pub wouldn't have produced it. The reviews on the other hand? Cost a person nothing and no one holds a reviewer accountable for ugly, scathing words."


First, let me say that I mostly agree with her assessment of the situation. I'll also have to admit that I've been fortunate and haven't have many truly scathing reviews, but I don't have quite the target on my back that an author like Kristin Billerbeck does. Nor do I receive the volume of reviews that she does, which is the cause of my own rants, but I've seen plenty of reviewers write scathing reviews after receiving a free book. There probably should be someone who holds reviewers accountable for their word, but secretly, I love scathing reviews.


Yeah, I know we all put our books out there with the dream that everyone will love the book. Everyone who picks up the book will praise how great it is. But as Richard Mabry mentioned the other day, we're essentially looking for what he called the universal specific. We think we can put our book out there and everyone will think it is exactly what they were looking for. That doesn't happen and when reviewers get ahold of our book they look at it and decide that it not only isn't what they wanted but no one else will like it either.


One of the reasons I like scathing reviews is because it gives me an opportunity to defend my book. I'm not saying that all reviewers are wrong. We writers make mistakes and some of those mistakes will show up in reviews, but unlike Kristin Billerbeck, I read my reviews and if I have the opportunity I respond. The Bible says, "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) With that in mind, it is good for us to give a soft answer to those who review our work. Often, the reviewers don't see us as real but they see us as aloof authors. To them, we aren't normal people. We know better, of course, but that's not the way they see us. When we respond to their concerns with respect for their opinion they begin to see us as someone real. Perhaps they will never see us as friends, but they will respect us, as will the people who read their reviews. I once wrote to an author to tell her why I didn't like her book and I lost all respect for her when she responded in the wrong way. If that is true, don't you think it is also possible for an author gain respect by responding to hurt readers in the right way?


Have you ever sat on a bridge railing? Move a few inches and you could easily fall into the water below. You could be going home wet instead of dry, but there we sit. We don't want to go over the side, but there is an element of excitement because of the possibility. Reviews are a little like that. A review comes back and we want it to be good, but we have a little fear that the review might have written an unfavorable review. We know the book is good and I don't mean because some publisher decided to publish the book. The is on point with which I must disagree with Kristin Billerbeck about. Publishers are idiots sometimes just like reviewers are idiots sometimes. No, we know the book is good because it is our best effort at producing a book that we would like to read. But the possibility that some reviewer will give us a bad review brings a level of excitement to the process. I don't know that anyone actually pays much attention to what reviewers say. I think they pay closer attention to how often they see the book and whether the book is something they think they would enjoy reading. Without the possibility of a scathing review, I don't think reviews would have much value at all.


I think the best thing we can do with reviews is to read them, recognizing that part of what the reviewers say is correct, and to respond to reviews in a way that shows respect for the reviewers. We won't win everyone, but we can win a few and those few may encourage their friends to purchase our books.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dog Eat Dog or Not?

When you think about the 1,000,000 books published last year and the 1,000,000 more that will be published this year, do you feel like you’re fighting the tide? You want your book to succeed, but it is literally one of a million. Even with approximately 230 million book readers in US, the competition for book sales is tough. We can’t help but envy authors who are selling more books than we are. Or can we?

I would like to submit that this envy is a result of having the wrong attitude. Imagine, if you will, that you are a rancher with many head of cattle. It is a cold winter day, so you have to go around and break the ice to give the cattle something to drink. You go to work doing that, but your son decides he will help. Of the ten watering troughs, you break the ice in three, but he rushes around and is able to get to seven. Do you envy him because he accomplished more than you? Of course not. The cattle will have water either way and you can get out of the cold sooner.

Suppose we looked at publishing in the same way. What do we hope to accomplish when we write? Are we just looking for something people will pay us for or are we hoping to influence people in some way? If we’re hoping for money, publishing isn’t the place to be, but if we want people to be influenced, it shouldn’t matter whether our words are what influence them are the words of another. I think this is especially true in non-fiction, but it applies across the board. Non-fiction author Marla Taviano recently guest posted on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog about cooperative promotion efforts involving her and Kathi Lipp, but I think there is more to it than writer friends helping each other out to sell more books. The most important question we should be asking is what we want to accomplish in the reader community and what other writers are hoping to accomplish the same thing. They may appear to be our greatest competition, but we’re trying to accomplish the same thing, aren’t they our ally instead?

If my goal is to teach readers how to do something, but another writer has already written something along those lines, it may make my life easier. Instead of spending my time writing a book, I can point them to the book that is already out there and accomplish the same thing. While I may not make money from doing that, the higher goal is still accomplished. The same is true of novels. If my goal is for readers to be entertained with a certain type of story, it makes sense for me to point them to that type of story written by another author.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A New Book Already

Strange though it may seem, I’m nearing completion on my work in progress. Last year, I worked on a novel for much of the year, decided the story wasn’t working and pulled an old manuscript out of the closet. I did significant rework on it, so I wasn’t sure I would publish a book at all in 2010, but on December 18 Mother Not Wanted was published. Tomorrow marks the one-month anniversary, so maybe I shouldn’t allow myself to feel that frustration that my post on Friday showed. But already I’m talking about releasing my latest work in progress. We aren’t even a month into the new year.

It is to my advantage that this book is non-fiction. I’m optimistic that this book will sell more copies than Church Website Design: A step by step approach. If you’re keeping tabs, Church Website Design is my bestselling book and is keeping my publishing endeavors in the black. But the market for a book like that is much smaller than the potential market for this new book. This new book is aimed at self-publishers and small presses. There were about half a million books published by self-publishers and small presses last year, so the potential is huge.

The book itself takes a similar tone to that of Church Website Design in that it get people over the learning curve and to encourage them to produce something better than what most beginners are producing. But rather than cover the topic of website design, this book deals with book cover design. It’s doubtful that the book contains anything that a graphic design professional doesn’t already know, but I’m not aiming at the graphic design professional. Instead, my aim is on those people who have decided to self-publish a book and have done little in the way of graphic design, those people who want to better understand what a cover designer has to do and those people who might have the opportunity to reject the cover their small press publisher has offered and design their own. To that end, I’ve limited the scope of the book to tools that are free or low cost, so that the profits aren’t eaten up by the cover design.

This book will be self-published and it will remain self-published. One thing I hate to see is a book about self-publishing that isn’t self-published. An author who isn’t himself a self-publishing enthusiast has no business writing about how to self-publish. Another thing about the book is that it will be printed in full color using the POD printing method. I field a lot of questions about the suitability of POD for printing color. The nature of the book necessitates the need for it to be in full color, but it will also give me a product that I can point to as an example of what is possible with POD color printing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hey you! Yeah, that's right, you. I'm talking to you.

Writing is fun. Selling books is frustrating.

I suppose the thing about writing is that you don’t have to rely on anyone else to accomplish your goals. Sure, you may have come critique partners or an editor who has some input into the project, but if they’re too busy to look at it, you don’t have to wait on them. You can keep writing and in time, the project is complete. Selling books isn’t that way.

At some point, we put our books out there in the world. We want people to buy them, but there’s really nothing we can do. We tell people about our book. “Hey, here’s a link to Mother Not Wanted.” We beg people to buy the book, “Please, please, please, buy my book.” Of course, we don’t actually beg. We want to maintain the aloofness of being an author. We’re supposed to be above that. We aren’t, but we don’t want people to know that. We add a link to the book on our blog and our website. Surely, our blog readers will buy the book. We tell our friends and family about the book. Sure, our closest friends and family will buy the book. It isn’t like it is expensive. It is $12 and you get to keep the book. We wait for those sales. All the while, the crickets chirp.

Somehow, there is a disconnect. People seem supportive. They talk about how much they admire you for writing books. They just don’t get it. Authors don’t want to be admired for writing books. Authors want you to buy and read their books. I suppose, somewhere along the line, people just don’t seem to realize who we are talking to. As much as we might like to, we can’t take a baseball bat and knock some sense into them. We talk about how readers need to be buying our books and they sort of nod their heads in agreement, that yeah, people should buy our book.

“Are you looking at me?”

Yes, dear blog reader, I am looking at you. I am trying to get it through your thick skull that you are the person who needs to click on that link and then click “Add to Cart.” Yes, I am talking to you, the person who is reading this post. I don’t think I’m asking too much. It’s only like three cups of Starbucks coffee and you get to enjoy it for a whole lot longer. It isn’t like I would do any less for you. So come on, it isn’t that hard. All you have to do is click here and then you look over to the right and click the big yellow button that says, “Add to Cart.” Go through the normal checkout process and in a few days you’ll have a great book delivered to your door.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unneeded Words

Don’t write the stuff that I don’t want to read, or so seems to be the admonition of Nick Harrison’s mom [1]. In what he wrote, he was talking about chapter length. Personally, I think chapter length is a rather arbitrary indicator, but we do need to be careful about writing stuff that people don’t want to read. I think we run into problems because we are trying to fill in the gaps. We aren’t really saying anything interesting, but we’re not willing to stop writing. In part, that could be because we’re looking to fill out a chapter. If our goal is ten pages per chapter and we are four pages in, our temptation will be to keep beating the dead horse until we get our ten pages.

But being willing to end our chapters sooner doesn’t guarantee that we’ll eliminate the stuff people don’t want to read. I’ve seen books with whole chapters that I didn’t want to read. We often feel the need to explain things that don’t need explaining. On that note, I will end this post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time Out

Is there no respect for the dead? Is there no respect for the great loss that our country has suffered? The dead weren’t even in the ground when people started trying to turn the Arizona shooting into something that would give them a political advantage. Why must we turn this tragedy into a fight over gun control? The great tragedy is that people went out to take part in the political process of our country and were gunned down because of it. We mourn because of this tragedy. Give us time to mourn. Can’t we set aside the political rankling for long enough for our country to reflect on this tragedy?

The choice of weapon doesn’t matter. We should all be appalled that anyone would attack our country by attacking one of our elected leaders. Whatever the gunman’s reason for hating her, he not only attacked her and those around her, but he attack us and our country. This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing, this is a United States of America thing. Let’s not make it anything other than that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What You Won't be Told at That Leadership Seminar

Leadership is a favorite topic of people these days. I suppose we all want to think of ourselves as leaders and to feel in control. I follow a number of blogs, including that of Michael Hyatt. He often writes about leadership and I’ve noticed that some of the people who follow his blog write about leadership. There’s a lot to be said about leadership, but today I want to cover a topic on leadership that I don’t expect I’ll see on Michael Hyatt’s blog or that of most of the people who talk about leadership. To state it in the most simple terms, Leaders have no business drinking alcohol.

I’m sure you recall that Paul gave the qualifications pastors and deacons in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Of the pastors he said “not given to wine” and of deacons he said, “not given to much wine.” And you may be thinking, “I know what it says, but I don’t really think that means pastors aren’t supposed to drink at all and it certainly doesn’t mean that other leaders shouldn’t drink.” You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that. Eugene H. Peterson, in his paraphrase The Message, writes it as “not be overfond of wine.”

As Paul so often did, the qualifications he gives for pastors is grounded in the principles of the Word of God. Look at Proverbs 31:4, 5: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel—it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink, lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Though most people in leadership positions don’t think of themselves as kings and princes today, the principle that Paul applied to pastors remains true for all those in leadership. If you are in a position of leadership, decisions you make and guidance you give impacts the lives of other people. It is not for you to drink alcohol because your ability to make decisions will become impaired. You may forget what God would have you do and lead people in the wrong direction.

I’m sure that some will argue that it’s okay to drink as long as you aren’t drinking when you are performing your leadership work. I read about a Southern Baptist college that had problems with some of their students because the students are required to agree to abstain from alcohol, but some wanted to say that that didn’t apply while they were off campus, arguing that they weren’t really students then. Here’s the problem with that: no leader is able to completely separate his leadership from other areas of his life. He may be a leader at work and he doesn’t want alcohol to impair his decisions concerning his employees, so he doesn’t drink on the job, but he goes home at night and has a couple of beers. While he is sitting there in a haze, he starts thinking about which employee he should promote. There’s that guy who is a hard worker, but he isn’t all that much fun to be around. That’s the guy that ought to be promoted, but Mr. Leader starts thinking about that young woman with the short skirt. She’s a lot more fun. When the time comes to put someone’s name on the list, Mr. Leader remembers that he intended to promote her, though he may not remember how he came to that decision.

The Bible calls leaders to a higher standard. People often want to think that they are able to drink and not allow alcohol to influence their ability to lead. God doesn’t agree with them. If he did, he wouldn’t have spoken so strongly against leaders drinking. Do let me ask you this: do you want to be a leader? Do you want to lead people the way God wants you to lead people? If you do, lay off the alcohol. Don’t touch the stuff. Keep it away from you so that when you are called upon to make a decision there is no possibility that you are making that decision based on unclear thinking.

Monday, January 10, 2011

That's a Lot of Words

The magic number on word count seems to be 80,000. When I outline a book, I base the word count goal for each section on that number. Some genres tend to be longer than that. Some genres tend to be short than that. For me, that is about the length of book I want to read. If you self publish, you can use whatever word count you want. But for traditional publishing, I figure that if I submit a manuscript complete at 80,000 words I have the option of going either way with it. If the publisher wants more, I can put in some work and add more. Adding another storyline could easily add 20,000 words, putting the number at 100,000. On the other hand, if the publisher is looking for a novella, removing one of the two storylines in an 80,000-word book might be enough to bring the total word count below 50,000.

But if you must know, I tend to exceed my word count goals. I do pretty well on first drafts because I can just quit writing when I reach the limit of a section, but in revision the word count tends to climb. I think that is because I don’t realize that I haven’t explained things well enough until go back and read my work.

Now here’s a scary thought with five completed novels at 80,000+ words each, that means I’ve written more than 400,000 words. But if we look at all the blog posts I’ve written in the past few years and multiply that by the average post length, I actually have more words on my blog than I have in all five novels combined.

Friday, January 7, 2011

We Haven't Got What it Takes

Most blogging literary agents discuss the proper way to write a query letter at some point or another. Some literary agents dedicate their blogs to that purpose, reviewing query letters and redlining anything they see wrong. Authors seeking publication seem to hang on every word. However, in response to a post by Rachelle Gardner that stated that she had received 10,000 query letters last year and had taken on 0 new clients as a result of those query letters, an Anonymous commenter said:

That's why it's so funny - it's like the lie has been put to the whole query thing.

What I always thought I knew instinctively about this aspect of publishing is true - the query system is a fruitless endeavor.

The stats bear this out. All the blog posts, and all the discussion, and all the fussing about what particular agents prefer in a query - it amounts to nothing.

It demonstrably amounts to nothing, according to these statistics.

There is a little truth in what this person said. I think literary agents are spending way too much time on the subject of the ideal query letter. In some cases, I think it is their way of venting the frustration they feel toward authors. Obviously, if you expect to go the traditional route of submitting to an agent who submits to a publisher who pays an advance, a good query letter helps. But the nature of the industry is such that it is a little like the state lottery, in that the odds of winning are only slightly improved if you play. In fact, with the publishing industry, that may be even more true, since there are plenty of example of books that began as self-published endeavors and were later picked up by traditional publishers. When it comes to traditional publishing, it is getting to the point that many people are asking the question of whether they want to play at all.

There aren’t any easy answers. The publishing industry is about champions. No one can write about what anyone can do to succeed in the publishing industry because that would many that everyone would succeed. That isn’t possible. It is much like a race. If ten people are running, only one will be the winner. We can give all ten some general advice about how to win a race, but only one will take use that advice to win the race. It doesn’t make the advice wrong for the other guys, but they didn’t have what it takes. Sadly for authors, most of us don’t have what it takes. Perhaps we could find an advisor who can help us get what it takes, but that advisor can’t do that for everyone.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Following the Trend and Reaching Out to Readers

I’ve been putting this off for some time, but as I mentioned the other day, the trend seems to be away from blogs and back toward newsletters. The belief seems to be that real readers are more likely to sign up for a newsletter than what they are to follow a blog. I can believe that most readers would prefer to receive information less frequently and are looking for different information than most of the people who follow author blogs. Most readers aren’t interested in hearing the struggles of getting published or how to outline a story or what the writer is doing to get a character out of one conundrum or another. Readers couldn’t care less about the differences between the POD printing process and the offset printing process.

So, I’ve decided to follow the trend and I am initiating a newsletter that will include none of those things. Instead the primary focus will be on things that I believe people who read books as a hobby will enjoy reading. As I write this, I’m still working on the first edition, but here is what I’m planning:

  • How to Pick a Good Book in Twenty Seconds or Less
  • The Release of Mother Not Wanted
  • Author Spotlight on [author yet to be named]
  • Character Spotlight on Xander X, Private Investigator

I hope that you will sign up for the newsletter. To sign up, send an e-mail to the e-mail address below:

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: Raider Publishing

A few weeks ago, I received a request from someone who had come across the popular Review: Westbow Press post. This reader requested that I look at Raider Publishing. After asking this reader a few questions via e-mail, I learned that she had used them to publish a book and was disgruntled with them. One of her complaints was that Adam Salviani was not responding to her e-mail and he was “unavailable” when she called his office in New York. This was brought on by her concern because she had not received an advance copy of her book and found that it had been published without her being informed. In her e-mail, she stated that she had been in contact with other customers and they had received the same treatment.

I did what I normally do when I receive a request like this concerning a company I don’t recognize. I looked for as much third-party information as I could find on the web. Interestingly, I did that search before I realized she was disgruntled and I found relatively little to tell me that they were to be avoided. There were hardly any complaints to the Better Business Bureau. That doesn’t always mean much, but some of the other subsidy presses have several complaints recorded. I didn’t find much in the way of bloggers who were complaining about them.

But I did see a few things that caused me to question whether they should be used. Primarily, their own website it what raised questions in my mind. In looking at the services they provide, they look very much like other subsidy presses, but the website itself looks cheap and some of the statements they make don’t ring true. For example, one of the first things they list in all of the packages is the amount of royalties the author receives. For Bronze and Silver Packages, the author receives 51% of the book’s royalties. For the Gold and Platinum Packages, the author receives 61% of the book’s royalties. My assumption was that what they really mean is that the author receives 61% of the suggested retail price of the book, which tells us that Raider Publishing makes all of their money from the setup fees they charge, rather than book sales. But the statement itself also tells us that they don’t understand the concept of royalties. Royalties are a license fee charged by the copyright holder to anyone who wishes to make copies of copyrighted material. To say that the author receives 51% or 61% of the royalties doesn’t make sense. The nature of royalties is that the author receives 100% of the royalties.

Another thing that caused me concern was what I saw in Adam Salviani’s statement on why he started Raider Publishing. “…my publisher did nothing to help. As it turned out my novel was quite a success in several places, but I only earned eight percent of the royalties, while my publisher walked away with ninety two percent of the profits…” The tone of his statement is that of a disgruntled author who doesn’t understand how the publishing industry works. Here again, he is using the term “royalties” incorrectly. The 8% he received is somewhat typical for a traditionally published book, but you’ll notice that he conveniently classifies everything else as “profits”.

Given that the bookstore gets 30 to 40 percent of the price of the book, the most profit a publisher can hope for is 52 percent, but it isn’t really profit when you consider that you have to pay someone to edit the book, do the typesetting, design the cover, etc. So, it began to look like a clear cut case of Raider Publishing being yet another company to avoid.

Maybe that is still the case, but I sent Adam Salviani an e-mail and he responded. He stated that all authors receive a copy of the PDF before it is sent to the printers. The authors are told that the book will be available three weeks after they sign off on the PDF. He stated that they have always fulfilled their contractual obligations and have been involved in no legal disputes during the five and half years they’ve been in business. Only six of about 500 authors have received refunds during that time. They had some problems with formatting and some problems with book orders, but Adam Salviani believes they have resolved those issues. They have a broadcasting network that reaches 20,000 people and a magazine with distribution to 30,000 people, presumably to help market their customers’ books.

He also states that they offer a 50% discount to booksellers, which causes me to question his math again. As you recall, the author is receiving at least 51% and may get 61%. That adds up to 101% and 111% respectively. Most likely what that means is that the 51% is applied against a different number than the 50%.

I’ll have to say that I remain on the fence with this one. Adam Salviani did respond to my e-mail and Raider Publishing does appear to be trying to do what is right, but they also have the appearance of not knowing very much about the publishing industry. My gut feeling is that if you decide to go with them that they will attempt to provide you with the services they are advertising, it just isn’t very clear what they are offering.

Be sure to check out

Mother Not Wanted Book Cover

Mother Not Wanted

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Focus on the Right Reward

Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. – Luke 14:12
This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. I remember hearing it as a child and it has stuck with me. Now, I don’t believe that Jesus is saying that we should never invite our friends, or influential people over for dinner or supper. He isn’t saying we shouldn’t take our co-workers to dinner and pick up the tab, if we feel so inclined, but he is making a point about the reward we will receive. And I think it can apply to more than just eating.

Look at the things we do and why we do them. Often, when we invite our family over for a meal, it is because we want to have a good time together. That is our reward. People used to invite their bosses to have supper with them in their house. I’m not sure why that is out of vogue now, but I think it is safe to say that people would do that in hopes of improving their relationship with their boss. That is their reward. A lobbyist might invite a politician to some event, hoping the politician would vote for what the lobbyist supports. That is his reward. But we wouldn’t expect these things to result in rewards in heaven. But if you find a poor man and invite him to eat with you, you have no expectation that he or anyone else will repay you. Sure, it makes you feel good, but that isn’t really a reward. You will receive a reward, but not here. Your reward is laid up for you in heaven.

If we want to increase the treasure we have stored for us in heaven, we should be focused on doing things for people who have no ability to repay us. I don’t know what our reward will be, but I know it’s going to be good. I mean, come on, we’re going to be wiping gold dust off our shoes; anything that we’re going to consider a reward will have to be extra special.

What's So Important About Book Covers?

B ook covers are an important part of the book. We know that the story will be just as good, no matter what the cover looks like, but covers are an important part of our marketing strategy. We often think in terms of a brick-and-mortar store. A reader would have a hard time finding a book if he walked into the store and they all had white covers with black text. So, our main objective with a cover is to convince the reader that he wants to consider the book. Often, a reader will reject a book because of its cover and occasionally a reader will purchase a book because of its cover.

In reality, most of us need not be concerned about what the reader sees in a bookstore as much as we’re concerned with what the reader sees online. Even if your book is in a bunch of bookstores, it may be hidden among the stacks and no one will notice it unless they are looking for it. More and more readers are discovering books online before they decide to make a purchase. That means that they are making purchasing decisions based on whatever information they see there.

When we consider how readers make decisions about purchasing a book online, the two most important things are the title and the front cover. One place a reader may discover your book is through an online review or the product page. One of the first things they will see is a scaled down image of the front cover. uses an image that is 300x300 pixels, but much of that is whitespace. With the LookInside feature turned on, a more realistic estimation of the size is 170x260 pixels. Readers will get a booksized preview if they click the image, but by that time they’re already hooked. But even that is late in the process. Before they reached the product page, they may have been given a list of books and the images were only 75x120 pixels. It’s only 60x90 pixels for the Customers Also Bought area. That’s not much bigger than the icons on your desktop. At that size, much of the text will be unreadable, that’s all the space we have to tell the reader why he should be buying our book.

Because we have such limited space, we’re forced to prioritize what we want the reader to see. We’re basically limited to the picture and four or five words. With the picture, the colors we use may have more of an impact on the buying decision than the structure of the image. The reader may not be able to make out the details of the image until later, but the color sets the mood.

The text is even more of a concern. As I write this, has suggested that I consider four of Colleen Coble’s books. As I look at them, I can make out the face of the woman; I can make out that there are horses; and I can make out her name. Based on those images alone, it would be hard for me to tell you the names of the books. What this tells us is that Thomas Nelson believes that the most important piece of information you’ll find on those covers is the name of the author. Thomas Nelson believes that people will buy those books because they were written by Colleen Coble, no matter what the title might be, no matter whether she is a best-selling author or not, no matter who endorsed the book. But that isn’t true for the rest of us.

For us nobodies, the title of the book is the most important thing on the cover. When I was younger and less experienced, I had this idea that if I put my name in big letters on the front cover people would think the book was written by some best-selling author they just hadn’t heard about and buy the book. Go ahead and laugh; I am. I missed the point. People don’t buy Colleen Cobles’s books because her name is in big letters. They buy her books because they are fans of her work. Thomas Nelson is just capitalizing on that. But if the author doesn’t have a big fan base, we go back to the notion of selling the book on the merits of the book itself. We don’t want the reader to think about how they don’t know the author before they decide the book may interest them. So, we should increase the size of the title and decrease the size of the author’s name. When you look at the scaled down version of your cover, if the title isn’t easily readable, it has no opportunity to hook the reader.

In a brick-and-mortar store, the back cover and spine are important, but online we rarely see those things. Often, there is a product description instead. Because the reader won’t see the back cover, I believe the product description should match the back cover. Some books only have reviews. That is sad because reviewers don’t always tell us what the book is about. So, when we write the copy for the back, we should write it for both those who pick up the book and have it in hand and for those who may discover the book online.

Covers are still important. People still make decisions based on the cover. However, the nature of the Internet has changed how people view covers and we must change their design accordingly.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Editing: Cooperative Effort or Problem Finding?

Editing is one of those things that is a staple of the publishing industry, but what is its purpose and how should it be handled? We’ve all heard stories of editors who went through a manuscript and changed just about everything. We’ve also heard authors talk about how they look forward to working with an editor because they know that writing is a cooperative effort and their manuscript will be improved with the input of others. Personally, I think that is mostly aspiring authors trying to impress agents with how grown up they are, but they say it nonetheless. My question is, should we even be looking at editing in that way?

Publishers Want Good Work

If you want to make a publisher’s day, walk into his office with a flawless manuscript that includes a great story and the name of a well known author on the cover. He’ll love you even more if it is already typeset and ready to go to press. But walk into his office with a great story that still needs quite a bit of editing and he’ll pass. As far as publishers are concerned, editors are and always have been a necessary evil. No publisher is sitting around thinking about how much he likes seeing editors improve the work of authors. That’s the sort of thing editors talk about, but their bosses would rather see more manuscripts come in that require no editing at all.

An Example From the Software World

In software engineering, we have this concept of a Software Product Evaluation (SPE). The purpose of this evaluation is to find problems before the software is released to the user. Because of safety concerns a SPE is much more intensive than the editorial process for a novel. With some SPEs, three to six software engineers will sit in a room and go through the documentation and code line by line. Every line is examined and there are many times the number of lines in a software program than you’ll find in a novel. But the software engineers aren’t looking for ways to make the code better as much as they are looking for things that will keep the software from doing what it is supposed to do. When they find those problems, it is sent back to the programmer to figure out how to fix the problem.

I Like It Better This Way

From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of editors out there who have the idea that their job is improve upon the author’s work. Maybe they don’t like the way the author phrased something, so they edit the manuscript. They seem like they are on a mission to make it better. Whatever the editor’s pet peeve is, if the author does it, the editor wants to change it.

If It Were a SPE

If we handled editing like a SPE, the editor wouldn’t be allowed to make changes to the document. Instead, he would just point out the problems. If he saw a word usage problem, he would point it out and the author would have to figure out how to fix it. If he thought the plot was weak in the middle, he would tell the author and the author would decide what to do about it.

One of the things about a SPE is that sometimes they come back with the statement, “no findings.” After looking at the work, the people involved found nothing wrong. That doesn’t mean that the programmer did everything like they would have. What that means is that they see nothing in what the programmer did that will prevent it from doing what it is supposed to do. If we applied that to editing, there would be times when the editor would send something back and say, “no findings.” After looking at the manuscript, he didn’t see any misspellings. He didn’t see word usage problems. He didn’t see something that would prevent the reader from understanding the story. He might have liked the story to have a happier ending. He might have preferred the author had used fewer adjectives. He might have preferred to see more of a particular character. There may have been a few style choices the author made that he didn’t like, but he had no reason to believe that it would hinder the communication of the story to the reader. He had no findings.

To put it another way, in this view, it is not the job of the editor to impose his style on the story. There should be no difference between the story produced by an author who has done an excellent job of self-editing and one in which an editor found issues to mark. An editor doesn’t improve the story, but the editor identifies mistakes made by the author. These aren’t things the author never considered but they are things he might have noticed on his own, given enough time. Given this understanding, when the author looks at the editor’s comments, if the author doesn’t agree that what the editor has identified is a problem then the author has the right and obligation to leave the work as it was. If the publisher doesn’t believe the author is talented enough to know what is best, then they shouldn’t have hired the author.