Monday, January 26, 2009

4 Ways to “Self-Publish” Your Nonfiction Book

Time magazine had an article in its most recent edition about self-publishing, and I think every one of my clients has read it. While the article dealt mostly with fiction, there is no question that self-publishing is also a viable option for nonfiction authors. So, in response to all the questions arriving in my e-mail, here are some things you should know about self-publishing.

You do everything a publisher does, and you pay for all of it. On the other hand, if there is a profit after expenses, you keep it. you are in control, creatively and financially. The book is yours; you make all the decisions. Depending on the approach you take, you can make a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of unnecessary money if you don’t know what you’re doing. Finally, no matter how you plan to publish, to attract buyers, your book must have a catchy title, eye-catching cover, solid content, and excellent writing. Here are four approaches:

Self-publishing: the "right" way
There are many steps involved in this approach. As a self-publisher, you are responsible for printing, warehousing, marketing, and distributing your books. For help, check out Independent Publishers Association (PMA) or its local chapter in your city. The guru of self-publishing is Dan Poynter, whose book, The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Book, has become the bible for self-publishers. He describes this process in great detail.

Technical steps
  • Begin by forming your own publishing company. Create a fictitious name to lend it some credibility.
  • Download or send for copyright forms; file them with U.S. Copyright Office .
  • Check into the need for local business licenses; apply for them if necessary.
  • Secure an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and an EAN bar code from R.R. Bowker.
  • Get competitive prices from printers.
  • Decide how you want to handle storage and distribution.

Creative steps
  • Start with a great title and subtitle. You might want to hire an expert to guide you. One of the best is Sam Horn.
  • Have your book cover designed by a graphic designer who specializes in books.
  • Have your manuscript edited and copy edited (two different processes).
  • Send bound galleys to peer reviewers.
  • Request testimonials for various promotional uses.

Marketing steps
  • Write a marketing plan. It is never too early, and you can always add to it as you go along.
  • Create a promotional piece or brochure. Have your book designer do it.
  • Put together a mailing list.
  • Do a promotional mailing.
  • Develop a website for your book.
  • Create a blog about your subject matter.
  • Write articles, and submit them to print publications ans online article sites, such as,, or

Print on demand (POD/Subsidy Publishers/Author Services)
POD is a digital technology that prints anywhere from one to 1,000 books at a time. The rest of the time, your book is stored as a digital file on a large server. This eliminates the need for large press runs and storage space. The appeal of POD companies — such as BookSurge (owned by Amazon), AuthorHouse, iUniverse (owned by Barnes & Noble), InfinityPublishing, LuLu, Xlibrus, and PublishAmerica — is that they offer a variety of packages to authors. The set-up fees and cost per book or per page vary from publisher to publisher, so it’s a good idea to shop around. Obviously, the quality of the books produced this way runs the gamut. It is up to you to ensure that your book meets the same high standards demanded by conventional publishers.

Here are few other things to keep in mind:
  • POD companies charge an up-front fee, which can be as high as $1,500.
  • Most POD companies have strict guidelines for format, size, and pricing.
  • There is an additional charge for editing and marketing; and, in some cases, purchase of the marketing package is mandatory.
  • If the company designs the covers, it owns the cover design.
  • Wholesalers and retailers may not buy POD books because they are non-returnable, higher in price, and often lower in quality.
  • The ISBN number is often in the company’s name, not the author’s, making the company the publisher of record.
  • After an initial number of complimentary books, you must purchase copies of your own books at about 40 percent of retail.

Start with a printer
This is something you would do as a self-publisher, of course, but it’s a less complicated process. Some printers provide the ISBNs and bar codes at a slight additional cost. One is NoWaste Publishing in Fenton, Missouri, which printed the last two editions of How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months. You can do as much or as little of the self-publishing process as you like with this option. I uploaded my book to, featured it on my website, made it the centerpiece of my blog, wrote articles based on its content, and printed only what I could afford and store.

Use LightningSource
LightningSource is a digital printer that prints books for publishers, as opposed to individual authors. You would have to create a publishing company to take advantage of their services. Ironically, the big POD houses farm out their printing to LightningSource, so they may be printing your book whether you realize it or not. LightningSource:
  • is owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the US
  • will automatically get your book into Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon
  • charges a single, upfront set up fee of $500, and then you only pay for what you print
  • sells internationally
  • prints in black and white and color, hardback or softback
  • will print anywhere from one book to 10,000

Friday, January 23, 2009

Love/Hate Relationships

Being a freelance writer is all about relationships — relationships with editors, agents, clients, designers, photographers, printers, computer experts, interview sources, and other writers. It’s an understatement to say that such a career requires well-honed people skills and that developing and sustaining relationships are essential to success.

“Love/Hate Relationships” not only covers both scenarios, it captures the ambiguous nature of our feelings towards those who pay our “salaries.” I hope you have encountered at least one or two clients or editors who fall into the too-good-to-be-true category. When you do, you probably pinch yourself, simply because they are such a rare breed. These are the people who return phone calls, respond to query or marketing letters, respect your work, pay you what you’re worth time), and try not to make unreasonable demands. They are all candidates for sainthood, in my opinion.

At the other extreme are those who are rude, arrogant, disrespectful, demanding, unrealistic, over-controlling, and penny pinching. Working for them is stress squared because they leave you feeling diminished and drained. On the bright side (yes, there is a bright side), as a freelancer, you do not have to do business with people like that. You can turn down the job at the outset; address the problems when they surface; and, if you choose to, resign from the project. My feeling is that, no matter how much you think you need the money, nobody needs it that much.

When I was a full-time employee, I can’t even count the number of times I bit my tongue, compromised a principle, or tolerated unacceptable behavior from a boss; because, I told myself, I didn’t want to risk my livelihood. Jobs like mine were not that easy to come by ... I had two children to support ... I would never live down the humiliation ... and on and on and on. Getting fired was the worst possible thing I could imagine; and then, one day, the worst possible thing happened.

Amazingly, I did not die; my children did not starve or become homeless; I did get over it; and I felt free for the first time in my career. The worst possible thing turned out to be the best possible thing. One of the reasons was knowing that I would never again remain in an abusive situation. I knew there would always be another assignment, another client, or another job, just around the corner. In the last 20 years, I have had to test that assumption on more than one occasion. I have walked out of a meeting; I have confronted a client who was way out of line. I have even stated, unequivocally, that I found the person’s behavior unacceptable and, if it didn’t stop, I would leave immediately. It stopped.

These, of course, are worse-case scenarios, but they illustrate the underside of freelancing. Not everyone you encounter will be professional or even civil. Some people are very difficult, if not impossible, to work with (See Solving People Problems (Amacom) for an entire book on this subject). But nowhere is it written that you have to grin and bear it. You don’t.

In between these two extremes are the people you are more likely to work with or for. They are neither saints nor villains; they are just regular folks. They run the gamut of quirks and personalities, good days and bad, consistency and professionalism. For the most part, you won’t love them or hate them. You may develop relationships with them, or you may never get past being seen as a “vendor.” You may admire some things about them and dislike others. And you may even put up with less-than-optimum working conditions from time to time. But that is the reality of the world of work and certainly of freelance work.

Years ago, when I was working for a large corporation and having a particularly bad day, I was crying the blues to my printing salesman. Finally, he shrugged and said, “Well Bobbi, that’s why they call it work and not sandbox.” I've often thought of having that put on a banner and hanging it over my desk.

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Blog or to FAQ?

Meet our guest blogger, Anne Wallingford, as she shares her musings on whether to launch a blog (She has at or focus on frequently asked questions about the business of freelancing (She has done that, too, at Anne is an experienced freelancer and an expert in permissions editing who integrates information from many sources into one viable marketing tool. She works with various publishers, development houses, and businesses to write and edit a wide range of material, including science articles, catalog copy, permissions, and journals.

My thanks to Bobbi for inviting me to write a guest blog. I’m fairly new to the blogging world; I’d put off undertaking this ‘new’ computer skill because, as I kept telling myself, I didn’t have the time. But once I caught up on my work and met my deadlines, I ran out of excuses for procrastinating. Except for one excuse that I think is still valid—my own web site.

I’ve had my own web site for several years now, and I’m proud of the fact that my site covers many different aspects of my life, from career through personal. There is one common thread though, that connects all the pages of my site, and that’s my love for writing. Which brings me back to my dilemma of blog or FAQ?

One section of my site is called Freelancer’s FAQ, and I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the past few years in creating this page. My goal was to address many of the questions fellow freelancers have asked me, and topics include writing contracts & proposals, setting rates, and other issues related to the business side of freelancing.

Within the past year, though, I’ve had several colleagues say to me, “You should write a book” when I’ve told them stories about my work in permissions editing. Write a book? That sounds like too much work. Besides, would the people I wanted to reach ever buy the book? And this is when I started to think seriously about starting a blog.

With a blog, I could share my stories as well as important information about copyright and permissions. Since blogs are popular these days I could also tell colleagues about my blog and they would be more willing to browse to it for a look-see. My hope was that if I wrote something worthwhile about this topic, word would get around to others working in the copyright/permissions field and my blog would accomplish my goal of instructing while entertaining.

And that brings me to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between writing my blog and writing FAQs for my web site. Writing a blog, for me, is like talking to someone, and offers a chance for immediate feedback. Writing a FAQ is definitely more ‘third person writing.’ So for now I’ll keep both my blog and my FAQ page. Hope to see you around at one of them!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Writer's Challenge: Juggling Work & Family

I must begin this blog with a disclaimer: at this time in my life, I do not have to juggle my business and a live-at-home family. I am no longer married, and my daughters have their own homes. So, what I have to say about this particular balancing act obviously does not reflect my current situation. Nonetheless, for many, many years, my life revolved around work and family, each of which demanded 100 percent of my effort and energy. The memories are vivid.

The family came first; the writing didn’t make its appearance until almost a decade later. I had a husband and two very active young children. Writing, which began as a lark, turned into an adventure and ultimately became a consuming passion. In the meantime, I was a wife and a mother with all the myriad responsibilities that role demanded. It was still the era of “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show,” which meant shirt-waist dresses, dinner on the table every night at six, and driving a station wagon full of little people to and from nursery school. I wrote in stolen moments, when the girls were in school or after they went to bed.

In the beginning, writing had to be squeezed in between all of the other stuff of life. I’m sure it was viewed by my family as a “hobby,” but all of that changed when I landed my first job as a full-time writer. That’s when the competition between the two halves of my life really intensified. By that time, I was a single parent, in addition to being a floundering new editor of a city magazine. My little girls were probably the original latchkey kids. They could let themselves in the house and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but that didn’t stop them from calling me 100 times a day. There never seemed to be enough of me to go around. The hours at work were long and stressful; my salary was a joke; and my health zigzagged all over the place.

Each step in my career brought more responsibility, less flexibility, and longer commutes. Guilt became my constant companion. I was never a Brownie leader or a room mother. I didn’t go on field trips or take an active role in the PTA. I remember being 20 miles away, interviewing a college president, when my editor called to tell me my youngest daughter had broken her arm, falling off the top of the cheerleaders’ pyramid. The president was very gracious when I left suddenly.

On the bright side, I allowed gymnastics meets and disco practice in my living room; encouraged having friends sleep over; and subtly forced my daughters to learn to cook, the alternative being starving to death. I took some great pictures at real gymnastic meets and of the cheerleaders at football games, helped with many English papers, and learned to “edit on my eyelids” when the girls were in college. I tell you this because I now know this is how many writers live — employed, moonlighting, full-time, part-time, male or female. In today’s world, juggling roles is simply the way it is.

It was and is useless to haul around a bag of guilt and, obviously, beyond stressful to think you can do everything, be everywhere, and keep all those plates in the air without dropping one now and then. If I had it to do over again, I would do things differently.

• I would face reality and kick the guilt. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” as they say; and feeling that you are failing your family doesn’t help you, them, or your work.

• I would communicate more assertively and less defensively. If your family (husband, children, parents, whoever) understands the challenges you face, and you understand theirs, you can work together to help each other over the rough spots.

• I would make and enforce a simple agreement. When I’m working, please don’t disturb me unless it is a real emergency; when we are together as a family, I won’t let work interfere.

• I would strive for balance in my life. I would figure out what is truly important and what is extraneous. If you have your priorities straight, even if there are only two or three of them (work, family, yourself, not necessarily in that order), you won’t constantly pour your energy down the drain.

• I would put self-care high on that list of what is important. If you run yourself into the ground, stress out, or get sick, you will be of little good as a writer, mother or father, spouse, or caretaker of an aging parent.

• I would ease up on the perfectionism. If you can’t do it all, you certainly can’t begin to do it all perfectly. When you die, do you really want your epitaph to read “She died with a bottle of Windex in her hand”?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The who, what, when, where, and how of blogging

When I started my blog, I had no idea what I was doing. That would seem to imply that now I do, which is not quite accurate. But high on my list of marketing tactics for 2009 is learning everything I can about successful blogging and then applying those lessons to The Writing Life and PRISM. To that end, I have been diligently researching, reading, making lists, and trying out one lesson at a time. While there are dozens of blogs on blogging, I have tried to condense some of the best of the best tips into one list to share with those who may need a map for this strange new territory (I sure did!). Here are the basics.

Who (is your target audience?)
1. Readers who are interested in what you do
2. Potential customers or clients
3. People you can help in some way

Why (should you have a blog?)
4. To provide value to your readers
5. To inform, teach, guide, entertain, or all of these
6. To develop a following of loyal followers and raving fans
7. To create and reinforce your brand
8. To sell ideas, services, or products

What (should you do in your blog?)
9. Tell success stories — yours, your clients’, or your readers'.
10. Answer questions you have been asked in the past.
11. Write about what you know.
12. List useful tips on how to do things.
13. Recommend books and resources.
14. Tell great stories.
15. Do your best writing; don’t post until it’s perfect.
16. Interview colleagues and experts in your field.
17. Reprint other blog posts; always ask for permission or cite sources.
18. Reprint other articles; always include the author’s descriptive blurb.

How (should you go about it?)
19. Stick to your subject; be consistent.
20. Remember: delivery, packaging, and presentation count.
21. Feature others; write profiles.
22. Develop a survey, questionnaire, or online interview; post responses.
23. Solicit guest posts.
24. Ask your readers what they need; then, provide it.
25. Let yourself experiment; use some creativity.
26. Comment on other blogs.
27. Submit posts to other blogs.
28. Offer to be a guest blogger.
29. Link to other blogs; request links from them.
30. Read great blogs; subscribe to them.
31. Put a link to your blog in your e-mail signature, every page of your website, all outgoing correspondence, your newsletter, your author’s blurb, business cards, brochure, and flyers.
32. Include RSS feeds so people can subscribe to your blog.
33. Use trackback links when you quote from or refer to other blog posts.
34. Carry a little blog idea book around with you. Jot down ideas; create a backlog.
35. Write articles; include a link to your blog in your authors blurb.
36. Respond to comments readers make on your blog.
37. Create a “best posts page” category on your main page; link to your best posts.
38. Create tags for every blog post.
39. Let your personality shine through; find your “voice.”
40. Talk to your readers; have a conversation.
41. Remember, you’re a resource; always give your readers something.

Where (should you submit or post your blog?)
42. Submit your blog to blog directories: BlogCatlog,
43. Recommend great blogs: copyblogger, remarkablogger, writetodone.
44. Check out,, JTPratt's Blogging Mistakes, and
45. Visit Marketing Strategy Thoughts for ideas.
46. Use TwitterFeed to link your blog posts to twitter.
47. Submit your blog to MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, Bumpmee, EntreCard,,,,,
48. Link to
49. Sign up for an account on Technorati.

When (should you post?)
50. Regularly and often