Since Because

January 7, 2011

The incorrect use of the word "since" is a pet peeve of mine. This means it really only annoys me and no one wants to hear me complain about it. From the amount of faulty usage I see with this word, it does seem only I care about this. I see its misuse with published authors, bloggers, journalists and of course just about every email I receive. So here is your quick lesson.

It doesn’t matter if you use it as a conjunction, preposition or adverb, the word "since" is a reference to time.

Incorrect Usage:

Since I was the tallest, I took the books off the top shelf.

There is no reference to time here. It should read: Because I was the tallest…

Since I was in the bar, I had a drink.

It should read: Because I was in the bar…

Correct Usage:

Since I got my driver’s license, I have only driven red cars.

We have been breathing air since the beginning of time.

Since the divorce, they have not spoken to each other.

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Ebook Pricing

January 5, 2010

The majority of the publishing industry is made of folks who graduated with degrees in English, Journalism, or Literature. I’m sure this is of no surprise and you most likely just mentally said, “duh.”

As publishers and authors talk about what a tough business they’re in, I’m mentally saying, “duh.” It’s a business and their background is in writing. This becomes so apparent when I see the lesser known authors price their ebooks at market levels. This decision generally comes from the publisher not the author unless the author is self published. There are sites that will allow you to compare your book to other similar books and arrive at a market price for yours. This does not mean you should.

When you set your price at what the market can bear, you are setting a price at the maximum the market will pay for your book. This works well if you are well known and/or have a big fan base because demand will drive the market price and sales. But if you are new or unknown to the masses, the market price for you might be much less. Instead of using the market level model for setting your price you should use the Laffer’s Curve.

Rather than bore you with the math and graphs, let me explain with a real life example how this curve works.

Where I live, the art gallery area of town has all their openings on the first Friday of every month. My wife and I like to go there and make a night of it. There are big crowds, wine, music and generally a good time if you like gallery hopping.

Here’s my example: Most of the galleries are not selling very much art even though it is all very good. In one gallery I saw some paintings on the walls that I thought were absolutely fantastic. I really would have loved to have one or several on my walls at home. However, each painting was priced at $10,000. I didn’t like them that much and my art budget said no way. The artist’s name is Ablerto and I overhead a conversation with him and a gallery patron. The patron asked, “Why do you price all your paintings at $10,000?”

Alberto replied, “I used to price them at $25,000 and never sold any. When I lowered the price to $10,000, I started selling one per year. If you look at the other galleries, you will see similar sized paintings priced the same. So this is the market price.”

Ablerto is correct. He has priced his work at the maximum the market will pay for his art.

In another gallery divided by several artists, I entered a room with fantastic paintings on the wall, painted by an artist named Rebecca. Again, I would have loved to have these on my walls at home only Rebecca was not selling the original paintings. Instead she had bins filled with prints of her work already matted and ready for hanging. She priced these prints at $50, well within my art budget and far below the market price. Its clear Rebecca makes much less per unit than Alberto.

I grabbed my favorite print and stood in line to pay for my selection. Let me say that again, I had to stand in line to buy art from Rebecca. As I stood there for ten minutes, I counted the number of prints she sold from the time I entered the line to when I reached the front. She sold $500 in prints just while I waited to give her money and she was working as fast as she could. When I left the room, the line appeared just as long as when I entered the room forty minutes earlier. This leads me to believe Rebecca had a line like this for at least three of the five gallery show hours. Maybe she had a line for more hours but let’s say three.

I promised you no math but I lied. If Rebecca sold $500 every ten minutes, that would be $3,000 an hour. For three hours, that would be $9,000 a night. Working only one Friday night each month Rebecca makes $108,000 a year. Compare that to Alberto’s $10,000. This is the basics of the Laffer’s Curve. You will sell more at a lower price and less at a higher price. This is why Wal-Mart sells more toothpaste per store than the grocery store where you shop.

Because there are variable and fixed costs associated with physical books and that’s a lot more math, let’s stay with ebooks. After conversion costs, you have no variable costs per unit. In the business model world this is the best scenario for your book. You have no costs to cover so you can do like Rebecca and price your product far below the market rate. If similar books by big name authors are selling for $12.99 to $19.99, you should price your ebook at $1.99. If lesser known authors are selling similar books for $7.99 to $9.99, you should price your ebook at $1.99.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Here’s an interesting book by someone I’ve never heard of. Hmmm $8.99, I don’t know, I can get an author I’ve heard of for that money. Wait here’s an interesting book from someone I’ve never heard of before. $1.99, what have got to loose?

I know, you make less royalty at $1.99 but don’t forget the Laffer’s Curve. You will sell more at a lower price and that increase in volume should surpass the smaller royalty per book. As your sales numbers grow, you can slowly increase your price until you see the numbers start to fall. At that point, you will have reached the market price for your individual book.


Selecting a Title

December 30, 2009

We all know that you can’t judge a book by its cover but people do it everyday which is why your cover is so important. For me, it’s too important to leave to cover generating software or some boilerplate template that publishers use.

On the same subject of judging a book, the title acts in the same way. This is why it is not a good idea to become too attached to your well thought out title. Here’s why: unless someone is in the store specifically looking for just your book your title will have to do all the selling. When a reader, or you, scans the shelves at Borders for something that might interest you, you first notice the title. If the book has been fronted on the shelf, you will notice the cover and title but most books are not displayed this way. If the title is intriguing enough to make you take the book off the shelf you will then look at the cover and either the back or inside jacket for the plot summary. If that keeps your interest you will read the first paragraph. And, if you continue to turn at least three pages, you will probably buy the book.

So let’s go back to what made you want to take the book off the self, the title. This is your front line on the marketing battlefield and it needs to reach out and grab the reader by the hand, shake their hand, slap them in the face, reset the time on their watch, and say, “read me.”

This is where my un-scientific market research comes into the picture. No matter how incredible I think my title is, I still put it up to a vote. I do this by sending all my friends in my email address book five to ten different titles that would fit with my manuscript and I tell them this:

Knowing nothing about the book, if you saw these titles on a shelf, which one would make you pick up the book to see what it is about?

Every time I have done this, the title that I thought would be judged as the most spectacular doesn’t even get a single vote. Usually, the most favorite title makes me ask the question, “Why did they like that one?” I used to follow up with more emails to find the rationale behind their decision but I have learned it doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, and they all have different reasons, they chose the title that interested them the most. This is all that matters. You want a title that will speak to your market.

This process is how one of my manuscripts changed from the title The Last Hunter to Ice Age Paradox. I think you might even agree that the latter is more interesting than the first.

So do not fall in love with your title, let it be a work in progress. Try to stay away from a title that will make more sense after you read the book, and don’t loose focus that the title is there to sell the book.


Passive Sentences

December 28, 2009

The number one comment I have heard editors give writers is, “too many passive sentences.” If you browse publisher’s web sites and check out their pages on most often reasons for rejection, you will see listed somewhere in their bullet points, “too many passive sentences.”

In my numerous critique groups, this is my most used comment to the other members, both published and unpublished. The reason for my pet peeve is I once packed my stories with passive sentences until I learned, (from other writers), how much stronger the sentences became when I eliminated “was” and “were.” These two words are not very descriptive. As writers armed with the entire English vocabulary, we should pack our work with as much illustration as possible and not fall back on passive verbs. About the only time I disagree with comments on my writing from other critique group members is when they suggest I rewrite a sentence to the passive voice. Using “was” and “were” is a lazy habit that is easy to change.

You may think you do not use that many passive sentences so this post does not relate to you. If that is the case, take this simple test.

Select a sample of your writing, two or three pages to start. In the find function, (crtl f, in MS Word), search for the word “was” and select “Find All.” Click the Highlight button to color all those words yellow. Try the search one more time only find the word “were.” Highlight these words in blue. Cancel out of the search function and take a look at your pages. Are they lit up like a Christmas tree? If so, you have too many passive sentences. As a general rule, you should not have more than one passive sentence per paragraph.

Getting rid of this bad habit is easy once you realize you have it. Just replace these verbs with something more descriptive. Example:

He was over there.

Change this to:

He stood over there.

A very simple change but look at how much more description you have in the action.

Example:

They were happy.

Change this to:

They looked happy.

They appeared happy.

They felt happy.

Again, this is a simple change but it added much more description and it became a much stronger sentence.

What is worse than too many passive sentences? Answer: Using passive verb gerund combinations when one verb will work. Trust me, you do this.

Example:

He was standing by the wall.

He was beginning to walk across the room.

He was starting to think.

We were talking to him.

Change to:

He stood by the wall

He began to walk across the room.

He started to think.

We talked to him.

Look at how much tighter and stronger those sentences became once you eliminated the passive voice.

Let’s all make a vow to rid this world from the overuse of passive sentences and make it a better place for all.


Publishers Make Money Not Quality

December 22, 2009

I case you didn’t already realize this, publishers are in the business to make money not to publish quality literature. They need to print books they think the market will purchase and if that happens to be a work of outstanding literature then they are okay with that.

As you disagree with me, keep this in mind, Kurt Vonnegut said that Paula Barbieri received more in her signing bonus than he had made his entire life. You’re asking, “Who’s Paula Barbieri?” That’s my point. She was given $1.6 million for being O.J. Simpson’s girlfriend not for writing prose that will last through history. Do I blame the publishers for putting profit ahead of art and skill, no. They have a business to run and when they see the chance to make a profit they should take it.

One area where I think publishers are missing out is their ability to push onto the market whatever they want. Case and point, Paula Barbieri. Did anyone really care about the fact she was O.J’s girlfriend during his famous trial. He was in jail the entire time, how much of a relationship could they have had? But the spin and hype (which cost almost nothing) the publisher put on the book made it fly off the shelves. I wonder how many who bought the book actually read it to the end?

I’m not saying the burden of marketing falls solely on the publisher. The author should take the lion’s share because it is their book. Just as one would sell soap, the author needs to get out and pitch this book to the public. But, the publisher has the weight to get the book on shelves, get reviews printed, and placed higher on Amazon.com and Borders.com. With ebooks and P.O.D., they have the ability to test the market before investing in a large print run of 30,000 copies. Not all books that come out of the big publishers need to roll off a printing press. They should use the technology available to cut costs and increase their market share instead of looking down their nose at the advancements.

If they used this approach, it would be more beneficial for them to take on more authors in more genres. They will always jump at the chance to print a celebrity author but they shouldn’t ignore the other voices out there.


ebooks- The New Frontier

December 22, 2009

Let’s go back to the 15th century and look at music and the public. If you wanted to listen to music, you had to either play it yourself or listen to someone play it live. This is how it went for the next 400 years when along came recorded music. This created a new market and gave musicians a larger audience. Musicians no longer had to play in front of a live audience in order to attract fans (customers). As with any market, if there is money being made, you will see more of the product produced (supply & demand).

Recorded music opened the market to a large number of musicians who previously would not have had a chance to break into the industry and gave the public a more diverse variety of genres to hear. It also gave small entrepreneurs the ability to buy a vinyl press and start their own record label. This remained status quo for the many decades until digital recording hit the scene. Buried in all the chaos of how MP3’s and downloading would kill the music industry, musicians found a new way to be heard. They now had a means to market their music to the public and bypass those who had controlled the recording industry for decades. This digital music revolution has opened up even more genres to the public and allowed musicians of all shapes, sizes and sounds to develop a following (customers).

Let’s go back to the 15th century again and look at books. Books have just become available to the masses, thanks to the printing press. With all these people learning to read and write, more and more authors rise to the surface and publish books. As with any market, if there is money being made, you will see more of the product produced (supply & demand). But, if you wanted to read a book, you had to hold the physical printed on paper copy in your hand. This is how it went for the next 400 years when along came print on demand digital printing. This gave the masses the ability to enter into the industry but lacked the distribution power behind the publishers who controlled the market. A decade later ebooks arrived on the scene.

Because of ebooks and P.O.D., authors who would be ignored by the industry have been given a voice. It also has given entrepreneurs the ability to start small publishing companies without the huge capital investment of large scale printing presses. Just like the big record labels who get their musicians played on the airways, the large publishers will continue to get their books on the shelves of the big chain book stores. As the garage bands of today, work their way to the surface of the digital ocean of music and make their way onto the radio stations, so will the ebook and P.O.D. authors make their way to the shelves of Borders and Barnes & Noble. There are those who still consider ebooks as a fad that will quickly fade. But, those voices come from those no willing to adapt to the changes in the industry. Eventually, ebooks will offer multi media options and become the standard choice of reading material.

I would guess that those who think I’m way off on this prediction are people who still do not own an eReader.


Books – The Original Pirated Media

December 15, 2009

There has been a lot of uproar about ebooks and all the potential piracy. I’m not saying there will be no pirating of ebooks, it’s already taking place. In fact pirating books has been going on since the year 1440.

If you’re thinking, “They didn’t have itunes back then,” you would be correct. 1440 is the year the printing press was invented and for the first time books became available to the masses. With this came consistency in spelling reform and the general public learning to read.

However, a book was still a luxury item. So, if you had one, you usually shared it with others after you read it. When it made the rounds through your network of friends in the village, you read it again and again and share it again and again.

Unlike music which people listen to over and over, most people will read a book once. After you reach the part that says, “The End,” the book sits on your shelf for all eternity.  If it’s an amazing book you might read it twice and let a friend borrow it. If that friend likes it, they will pass it to a friend and so on… A year later you would get back a well loved book that had been purchased once and read by many. Just like those mp3’s that you downloaded. Someone at one point purchased it and shared it with many (the world).

Today when I read a great book and tell my friends they will reply, “Sounds good, let me borrow it.”

I follow up by asking, “Do you have an eReader?”

“No.”

“Then, you have to buy a copy because my book is an EPUB format.”

Since my friends are afraid of eReaders at this point, it means the author just sold two copies instead of one and the ebook I purchased should have paid a higher royalty than the paperback.

Yes, one day the whole world will own eReaders and Kindle will get a clue and convert to EPUB and we will all share our ebooks just like before. But the same way cassette taps and CD burners and mp3’s brought an end to the music industry… wait there are still musicians making millions. In fact there are more musicians earning a living off their music because more people have access to the industry that is no longer controlled by the giants who want to remain in the past where they control all.

Let me start over. When we all have eReaders, there will be more and more books and combined media available to purchase and share. People will make a living writing and selling ebooks just the same way people still record and sell music today. Ebooks will not kill the industry, it will open it to the masses just like what we saw back in 1440 when we started pirating books.