Friday, July 26, 2013

All Neatly Wrapped Up

I’m sure you’ve seen the piles of books on the discount tables in bookshops. Perhaps you’ve bought a few dozen copies over the last few years.

Some of these, while they have an author or several listed, just don’t seem like the kind of books a writer might come up with. You know the kind—diet books, coffee table books, health books, travel guides. Well, you’re right. They aren’t.

These types of books most likely resulted from a book package assembled by what’s known as a “book packager.” All are non-fiction and many are part of a series.

So what is a book packager? Instead of a writer coming up with an idea, a third party either creates the idea for a book or gets it from a publisher looking to produce a book on a particular subject to compete with other houses publishing books on the same subject. For instance, ever publisher of travel books wants to have at least one on Mexico, even if duplicates what the competition has on the shelves.

The book packager acts much like a film producer, thinking up the idea, hiring a writer or writers, finding a publisher, and often hiring illustrators, photographers, indexers, cover designers, and the like. In other words, the packager produces the whole package.

Publishers like to work with packagers because the latter does most of the work of producing a book. The publisher also gets exactly what he or she wants and doesn’t have to waste time shopping around.

Sometimes, publishers act as their own packagers, then shop the book package around to agents who find a writer or writers.

So what’s the advantage of working with a book packager? For one thing, you don’t have to go through the agonizing frustration of trying to sell a book idea to a publisher. The idea has already been sold and approved. All you need to do is agree to write it.

But there is a catch. In order to work with book packagers, you have to have been published already—usually a book or two, plus lots of articles—and on in a particular subject area.

Book packagers are business people who look for writers who specialize in a particular subject area. They want a writer who knows a subject well enough and has enough contacts to get right into the project and not have to learn all the basics. They also want a writer who knows how to write a book—someone who has been through the process before. Deadlines for book package projects are notoriously tight—sometimes as little as 10 weeks. There’s no diddling here. Newbies need not apply.

Payment is often work for hire. In other words, you get paid a specified amount for the entire project, paid in three or four installments. This often works out better than if you sent in a book idea, got it approved, and got paid royalties. Most writers never see any additional money beyond their advance. All you have to do is write the book and do a final edit on the galleys. It’s up to the publisher and/or packager to promote the book. Often the publisher doesn’t care how many copies sell as long as he or she maintains a presence on the book store shelf alongside the competition.

If you think you might be interested in giving this a try, you’ll have to make yourself known. That means promoting yourself and your work through whatever means possible. The more well know you are in a particular subject field, the more likely book packagers will come to you.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

10 Points For Achieving Professional Status

It takes more than good writing to be successful at freelancing. While writing is important to produce your product, you’ll have to be professional in conducting your business. And neither does getting paid for your work make you a professional. That status comes by following these 10 important points:

        1. Be polite. Relax with some small talk first. Get to know your editors and other clients. Doing so will help you to develop solid professional relationships.

        2. Be confident. Learn the fine line between cockiness and confidence and observe it at all times. Have confidence in your work. Know that it’s the best you can do.

        3. Be competent. Show samples of your best work. Deliver on time or earlier.

        4. Be realistic. Don't overbook assignments when you find you're starting to get them regularly. Plan ahead what you can and cannot take on. Know how much work you can accomplish in a specified time. And if you run into problems, let your editor know as soon as possible.

        5. Be truthful. If it's not your type of work, admit it. If you already have too much to do, tell the client. Don’t pretend you can do a certain type of work if you have no experience.

        6. Be available. Help the client out of a crisis if you can. Be flexible. Helping an editor or a client out of a jam may help you later on.

        7. Be cheerful and optimistic. Life is traumatic and publishing is a business fraught with problems. Your attitude can be a helpful tool everyone will appreciate. Maintain a positive attitude.

        8. Be aggressive. There are many competitors out there. You'll be forgotten if you don't remind clients now and then that you're still in business. Know where you stand with your competition.

        9. Be a hard worker. All the above attributes won't help you if you aren't willing to work incredibly hard without constant reminders.

    10. Be patient. No one starts at the top. Slow and persistent wins the race.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Makes a Self-publisher Run?

As traditional book publishing routes become more complex and harder to crack, more and more writers are turning to self-publishing—and not just those who can’t seem to get their work accepted by established publishing houses. But before you take the plunge into the world of self-publishing, you’ve got to strongly believe in your own work. Of course, patience, perseverance, organizational and writing skills will also contribute to your success. If you’re not a good writer, you won’t have any more chance of success in self-publishing than in sending your work to traditional publishers.

Not so long ago, "self-publishing" meant "vanity publishing." There were companies out there who prayed on novice writers, gladly taking thousands of their dollars to print their books with no guarantee of success.

A great example was the person who had been misaligned in some way. The following scenario was all too typical: A widow, whose husband had died at the hand of surgeons, is out to tell the world about the incompetencies of the medical profession. She decides to write a book and spends as much as $8,000 to have it “published.” In this case, published means printed. She’s a terrible writer and seeks revenge for her husband’s death more than anything else. In the end, she ends up with 5,000 copies of a book no one wants to read.

On the other hand, there’s the story of a young food writer who desires to write a book on Moroccan cooking. She does so, has it printed in Morocco—it was cheaper there—then ends up with 3.000 copies stacked in her bedroom. Instead of sitting on those books, she began to peddle them to gourmet food stores in high-end retailers like Nieman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. Her book is a success and five additional books later, she’s a success. But only because she was not only a good writer but a savvy businesswoman.

Vanity publishers ran ads in magazines for writers—the ones only beginning writers read. The chances of your book, so printed, reaching much of an audience at all are slim. In most cases it will end up collecting dust in your attic—if you still have one after putting up the cash to have it published.

Today, the advent of ebooks and POD (Publishing on Demand) books makes it possible for you to self-publish your work without shelling out thousands of dollars. And the market is constantly growing. These days more books than ever are being self-published—fiction, nonfiction. poetry, art, design, crafts, guides, etc. While some are amateurish in their production, others look professional—as good as any commercially published book. They, like any book brought out by a large publishing concern with a list of hundreds, can bomb, or they can break the bank. As a self-publisher, you’re the publisher, as well as the designer, salesman, distributor, and publicity agent of your book. Fortunately, you’ll also collect all the proceeds from its sales.

How do you start out if you're going to make a profit? First, plunging into self-publishing without ever having published anything is as bad as writing a book and sending the manuscript around to endless publishers. Many beginning writers have the mistaken belief that they should start out by writing a book—the hardest type of project they could tackle. They have no idea what they’re doing and thus, end up with a poor product. But self-publishing after you’ve had quite a bit of work published, especially books, makes sense.

A mystery writer, who already has four published books under her belt, decided to convert some short stories of hers into shorter books and publish them on Kindle. While she’s not making tons of money, her book sales have been steady. And that’s because she already had a following. Her readers wanted more and she gave it to them. Now she’s experimenting with a POD book—a republishing in paperback form of one of her ebooks—for readers who don’t use Kindle. In the end, she’ll be successful because she’s plotted out her book market as well as she plotted out her mysteries.

What you need to start in self-publishing is a sound, well-researched idea for a book that appeals to a wide audience. After you write it, you need to get it professionally edited. You’ll also want critics, experts, etc., to endorse your book so your promotions will have credibility. And you get those by previously following the traditional published route.

Self-publishing is an affirmation of your belief in your own best efforts, because no publisher will care quite as much about your work as you do.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

To celebrate Independence Day weekend, it’s appropriate to look back at one of what seemed to be one of the thriftiest persons in American history—Ben Franklin. Well, he really wasn’t thrifty at all. He just advised everyone else to be so. Good ole Ben lived a luxurious life, with fine clothes, gourmet foods and wine, and the best entertainment.  So now is when you say, “How can I do that and still write for a living?” You can and without sacrificing anything.

The trick here is to change your priorities. You need to be, as old Ben said, “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

To keep health bills under control, you need to be healthy, and that requires eating right. Learn to cook good food. If you have to, take a cooking course to get you jump started. Don’t rely solely on prepared or frozen foods and eat a balanced diet. This means staying away from fast and junk foods. And staying healthy will help with health insurance. Shop around for that, too.

While you might think growing your own vegetables will save you money, think again. It takes time and energy—time you could better use writing—to grow a good garden. Then when everything comes to harvest at the same time, you’ll most likely have too much to use and will end up giving most of it away. The short time homegrown veggies are available—usually for a month or two—doesn’t make them a money-saving option. Better to find a market with good produce or a farmers’ market in your local area. And speaking of groceries, shop at one regular market, supplemented by goods from dollar stores and perhaps limited, and lower-priced markets like Aldi.

And for clothes, shop at thrift stores whenever possible and take advantage of end-of-season or clearance sales at other stores. Generally, stay away from more expensive department stores.

Limit your entertainment. Today, you have lots of possibilities, so you don’t really have to go to the theater—an extremely expensive night out. The same goes for movies. Instead, subscribe to Netflix, either for monthly streaming or DVDs for $4.95 per month.

Shop around for the best phone and Internet package. Forget cable or satellite T.V. unless you have really lousy reception. That’s the most expensive part of any communications bundle. If you want a cell phone, consider purchasing a prepaid one. And forget texting and data streaming. That costs extra, and you really don’t need it. Remember the days not very long ago when if someone called and you weren’t home, they just left a message on your answering machine?

Do your own repairs whenever possible. And to keep repair costs down, do regular maintenance around your home. Consider low-cost extended warranties for appliances that may continually give you problems.

If you have a mortgage on your home, consider refinancing. While this will extend your loan, it can save you a bundle each month. In the end, it’s like renting your house from yourself. You’ll pay much less each month for a mortgage payment, including escrow for taxes, than you would if you just rented a house or apartment, plus you gain equity.

Consider keeping your present car, if you own one, and doing regular maintenance to keep it in good working condition. If you need a new car, think about leasing. There are some terrific leasing deals out there for about $150 per month with 12,000 miles a year. Get the most economical car you can afford in your comfort zone. Since you most likely are working at home, you won’t be driving as much. Diving less not only saves on gas, it also saves on repairs.

Buy all your insurance from one company to take advantage of their multi-policy discounts. And don’t skimp on car insurance. Many plans come with roadside assistance which can come in handy if you have an older car.

If you like to read, and what writer doesn’t, buy used books instead of new ones. Browse library book sales and be sure to check the used editions of any books you plan to buy on Also, go through your library from time to time and sell back some of your books to Amazon.

Everyone needs a vacation from time to time, and writers aren’t any different. But instead of flying off to some exotic location—unless it’s a special trip you’ve been planning for a while—travel closer to home for shorter periods. Take a few days off during the off-season and go to places that interest you or where you can just relax. Many hotels offer weekend packages that include some meals.

Finally, only use credit cards to control cost, not to run a tab. Pay them off every month or at the most every other month.

To enjoy working as a writer, you don’t need to sacrifice anything. You can still have that cup of java at your local coffee bar. You can still have all the devices you need—T.V.s, cameras, cell phones, even a tablet. All in all, you can live a comfortable lifestyle.