Publish or Be Published: Sixth part

In talking about self-publishing in the last few parts of this piece I did not intend to give the impression that Amazon is the only way to go. By no means. Plenty of other online outlets exist, as well as other old-fashioned channels like book signings and boot sales. Lets look at one online alternative to get started:

Privacy for Business listed at Atlas Books, operated by Bookmasters.
compare to:
Privacy for Business listed at
Privacy for Business listed at
Privacy for Business on its own site.

The first thing to note is that Atlas sells the book for $18.97 which is a price set by me (in fact, I am about to lower it to try and clear out the last remaining copies of this version). I could have chosen to make Atlas the sole source on the book's web site. but felt like leaving the Amazon option open. The Barnes & Noble option has not been very productive. Amazon sells the book for an attractive $16.47, so the ten bucks or so that I get per copy through them is a good deal. I may try lowering the Atlas price to $15.79 and see if that pulls more sales across to Atlas. What Atlas does not offer is a UK outlet. Amazon does, and it requires no extra work by me. They sell the book for £17.99 which means a decent chunk for me, although I am not aware of any UK sales yet.

So why Bookmasters/Atlas? Well, Bookmasters is the only company I know that is both a regular printer and a bookseller. This can save you a lot of money in shipping. You get a competitive price on the printing of your books, based on a run of 1,000 or more. In other words, this is not the much more expensive print-on-demand pricing you will see at some online operations. Then you escape shipping charges because Bookmasters warehouses the books for you. Buyers can get the book from the Atlas web site and through 7x24 toll-free ordering (some people still like to order by phone instead of the web). Plus, Bookmasters is hooked into one of the big distributors, so bookstores can order direct from them. So can you. They will ship a carton of books to you when you need one, or to a buyer (I sell about 40 books a quarter wholesale to a university book store and they go straight from Bookmasters to the store).

The warehousing is not free. I pay from $50 to $70 per month in charges. And obviously Atlas is not Amazon when it comes to online presence. But this brings us to an interesting question: What is going to drive sales? If you are out on the speaking circuit generating buzz, it may not matter that you are not on Amazon. All you need is a simple way to channel people to the order page. For example, you put a "buy now" link on your web site (hopefully you have already registered your name as a web site) or on the book's web site (hopefully you have already registered the title as a web site). That link can be to Atlas and the price can be whatever you decide.

Of course, neither Amazon nor Atlas are exclusive, so you can go with both, but I am not sure how many people buy books on Amazon just through browsing. In other words, without buzz your Amazon sales are not guaranteed to be anything more than one or two a month. (At some point I will get around to discussing how to perk up your Amazon listing to increase sales). is an interesting example of print-on-demand. Check it out at You submit your manuscript and cover design, they print copies when people order them from the web site. Their pricing model seems complex at first (check it out here) but if you have read the previous parts of this posting you should be able to grasp what they are getting at. If not, check the example on this page and keep trying, it's a good way to learn the ropes.

You can see that copies sold through retail distribution (e.g. by Barnes & Noble) are going to make you $4.00 per copy. This might not sound like much but it remember you have zero up-front costs, zero shipping costs, zero warehousing costs, and $4.00 is probably twice what you would get with a mainstream publisher. Now look at the Lulu Marketplace price. You could get $10.00 per book sold direct through their web site ($4.00 royalty plus the difference between $13.53 and selling price, e.g. $19.95-$13.53=$6.22). If you are actively marketing your book then telling people to order from may work well.

Now, I ended Part V by saying we would talk about how to move a lot of books in a hurry. I don't mean to be crass but one of the best ways is to give them away. Please wait a moment before you ask the perfectly logical question: "Where's the profit in that?" Remember the question I put to you in Part One? Why do you want your book to be published? If you want to "get out the word" or become "renowned author and expert" then giving away some of the first print run can be a smart move.

Think about the cost of your books. If you pick them up from the printer in your car they can be under $2.00 each (that's for the 6x9 240 page glossy covered paperback we have used in previous examples). Now look at the list price on the back (we will deal with pricing and the all important ISBN number and bar code in Part 7).

That list price is more like $22.00 than $2.00. In other words, the perceived value is at least ten times the raw cost. But if you, the author, whose name and photo are on the cover, hand the book to someone, they will feel it is worth even more than the cover price. That's because you, the author, handed it to them, spoke to them about it, maybe even autographed it.

Think about what could happen if you were to take boxes of your books to a trade show where you are promoting the services or products of yourself or your company. You make sure everyone at the show gets handed a copy of your book. With the right book this will seriously boost your credibility AND jump-start sales. And you'll be surprised at how many people will ask you to sign the book. I've had congressmen and CEOs ask me to autograph books I have given them. Never under-estimate the combined value that personal contact + your name and photograph on a book jacket generates (the photograph is particularly important in any professional field where it is helpful for people to know what you look like).

If your book is good—which of course it is, right!—then the chances are it will stick around on the desk or bookshelf of someone to whom you handed a copy for quite a bit longer than other books. Recipients of complimentary copies are likely to recommend the book to others, who will have to buy their own copies. One person who got a free copy of one of my books at a conference ordered 30 copies the next day to hand out to his employees.

I don't mean to belabor the point but think about the traditional tchachkes that companies hand out at trade shows. They cost at least $2.00 each and have a perceived value of what? Rarely as much as $20. Furthermore, their value seldom relates to the features and benefits of the company/service being promoted. I have a nice coffee mug from an encryption company. It reminds me of that company when I use it, but that is not often because I have a lot of other coffee mugs. And a coffee mug adds nothing to my opinion of the company's encryption expertise (except perhaps that they drink a lot of caffeine when they are coding).

In the next part we will look at several practical aspects of the book production process, including the ISBN number, the bar code, and the selection of a printer. We will also discuss getting your book adopted as a textbook.

Lovin' Our LaCie External Drive: You get what you pay for

Over the years I have put together quite a few external hard drives, typically buying a bare enclosure to put around a "spare" desktop or laptop drive that had been replaced by something larger or faster. The primary use for such drives was backup storage, like a quick backup of my laptop before heading out on a trip, or archives of image libraries and business files. These are files that do not need to be clogging up my work drive, but still need to be available quite quickly from time to time.

On the whole, the external drives that I 'built' did a decent job, but they tended to be a bit noisy. Lately a new storage need emerged on our home/office network: access to large image collections, video, and music libraries. My wife's photo art was the prime mover. She's an Apple user and bought a LaCie brand external drive from the Apple Store.

I have to say at first I was a little ticked. These are not the cheapest drives and Apple Stores are not noted for their low prices. But after using it for a couple of moneys I am impressed. It is quiet. It is fast. It wakes up and goes to sleep appropriately and does not seem to skip a beat (in fact, after some reconfigurations of our home/office network we are now using it for the 80+ gigabytes of iTunes content we have accumulated.). While LaCie drives always seem to price out slightly more expensive than the competition, this could be a genuine case of "They're worth it."

Recently I noticed some decent prices on Amazon.

Nostalgia Moment: The Deux Chevaux

Just had to Google "Deux Chevaux" after mentioning it in the last post about the Jeep Liberty roll-back roof. Found this great picture at Seattle-based 2CVs R Us, which seems to be the place to turn for this marque in the US.

These folks specialize in repair and restoration of Citroen 2CV and have many Deux Chevaux (French spelling) for sale. At the website you will find "plenty of information about 2CV's in general, repair and maintenance instructions, spare part supply, a very informative 2CV buyer's guide that tells you what to look for when you plan to purchase a 2CV and a complete online 2CV Users Manual." BTW, the fine example shown here is apparently located in New York state and up for sale. If you are interested, you might want to email cars at 2cvsrus dot com and ask for details of the "Stunning yellow and black 2CV Charleston."

[Many thanks to alert reader Christine who very rightly pointed out that the original post was incorrectly titled Deux Cheveux--after laughing along with Christine for some time, I have now corrected it.]

Whoa! Where Did March Go? Through the Jeep roof maybe?

Time flies when you're traveling (to the UK and back since the last post--nice little London hotel review to follow, plus my latest tips on coping with airline security--hint: you can only carry one bag onto a plane flying out of London, repeat one bag, not a roll-on plus computer, one bag, regardless of cabin class or carrier).

And how the wind flies in the Springtime when you're having fun in an open top vehicle. My wife loved her Mercedes SL 500 and her SLKs, the 230 and then the 320. I loved to be driven in them, top up or down. But alas no room for the dog. Poor doggy (and sometimes Stephen when the doggy took precedence).

Now stable-mate Jeep comes to the rescue. The latest iteration of the Jeep Liberty is to offer something a friend of mine has sought for years: a roll-back roof (as described at the autoblog).
"One of the most-talked about options [on the '08 Liberty) will be the power-operated sliding roof, called Sky Slider. While most automakers offer a sunroof, the Liberty's canvas roof runs nearly the length of the vehicle. It can be opened from front to back or from back to front."
Not that this is new--anyone familiar with French autos knows they have long sported variations on this idea, back as far as the Citreon Deux Cheveux at least. However, none of them are over here, and none of them are in a serious off-road/around-town vehicle like the Liberty (disclaimer: we own a 2005 Jeep Liberty Diesel that we like quite a lot).

My friend's wish was for a rugged vehicle able to accommodate wife and two kids in comfort and tour around with the roof open. The 2008 Liberty with the Sky Slider looks to be about the only contender in that category.

Publish or be Published: Part V

So, how do you go about putting out a book? Let's assume you have a manuscript. You need to get it typeset in a form that can be sent to printer and printed. You also need to think about where you are going to put the books once they are printed. At the same time you need to be thinking about the channels you are going to use to sell your book. It might seem backward but we will discuss the last of these items first: Where to sell?

How about "the world's biggest book store" which is There is a fairly simple way for independent publishers--which includes you as an author who has published your own book—to sell through Amazon. It is called the Advantage program and you can read all about it here, but the following is the bit you want to know right now:
There is an annual fee of $29.95 to be a member of Advantage. Your fee includes unlimited title enrollment, access to our Vendor Services team, and access to the Vendor web site to manage your account. The standard terms for Advantage vendors is 55% - you keep 45% of the List Price. That means that is entitled to 55% of the List Price for each unit that sells. You, the vendor, receive 45% of the List Price. You set the List Price, also known as Suggested Retail Price, of your products, and all payments made to you are calculated based on the List Price. If decides to further reduce the sales price to the customer below the List Price, the customer discount comes out of's percentage. For example, if the List Price is $39.95, you will make $17.98 from each copy sold, even if the Customer Price or Our Price on is discounted from the List Price.
Now, I don't know what kind of book you are going to publish, but if you are going to give it a list price of $39.95 it had better be very special. Don't think you can game the Amazon system by listing a high cover price and expecting Amazon to discount it. You don't control their discounting. (I will give you an example in the next posting.)

Let's say you are looking at a 240 page trade paperback in the 6x9 inch size range. You can probably get these printed for $2.00 each. A realistic cover price for this might be $22.95 which gives you $10 and change for your 45% cut, less $2.00 printing costs. But PLEASE don't make the classic mistake of thinking "Great, if I can sell just 2,000 copies through Amazon I will make $16,000, which is twice what I was going to get as an advance from McGraw-Hill."

First of all, the books for which Amazon pays you $10 have got to get to Amazon and won't earn you a dime until they sell. Herein lies perhaps the biggest secret of publishing: books are HEAVY. That means shipping is going to be a big factor in the profitability of your publishing venture. Consider these numbers:

It will cost $4.05 to ship your 240 page 6x9 book via Priority rate for 2 day delivery within the US. Parcel Post runs $3.95 for 5 days but is probably not worth it since Bound Printed Matter rate is $2.15 for about the same speed. Slightly slower but a relative bargain is Media Mail (Book Rate) for $1.59. Compare that to the cost of printing the book. If you do a large print run you can probably get the cost of your book down to around the cost of sending it somewhere via Media Mail.

But surely your customers will pay shipping?

Yes, they will pay to get the book from Amazon, but you have to get the book to Amazon (or another other distribution point—for example, to your garage from the printer, or from your garage to a friend who has a book store that you can't get to by car). For an idea of bulk shipping costs, check this chart of UPS prices.

BTW, I have found UPS is the way to go with books. They are more reliable and do less damage than other carriers I have tried. So, these are current UPS rates for a book of 40. As you can see, 2-day is more than $2 per book. Regular 5-day is about 62 cents per book.

In my experience Amazon is unlikely to give you a chance to ship in bulk. They will order two or three copies at a time. A lightweight mailer for one or two books will cost about 50 cents. So your cost before the book gets to Amazon could be $4.71 (printing cost + shipping to you + shipping to them + mailer to ship in = $2.00, 0.62 + 1.59 + 0.50 = $4.71). That means one sale at Amazon may only net you $5.30 versus the gross figure of $10.00. And that means you have to move more like 2,000 copies to get a return greater than the $10,000 advance you might have received from a mainstream publisher. And you are fronting the costs and taking the risk. Nevertheless, it may be worth it.

Next posting we will talk about some alternatives to Amazon and how to move 2,000 books in a hurry.

Publish or be Published: Part Four

Being a best perspective:

Technically, I did write a "best-seller" once. It was about how to use a particular piece of software and it sold fast enough to make Number One on the list of record at that time for computer books. So, it was, briefly, the number one selling computer book. I think total sales for that book were 80,000 copies over the first 6 or 7 months. I have had several successful 'literary' writers tell me they have never had a book sell that well. Of course, you can sell screen rights to a literary work a lot easier than you can for a software guide.

Speaking of sales, something to bear in mind, whether you publish yourself or get published, is that books have a somewhat unique place in the retail market because they are shipped to book sellers on a "sale or return" basis. A book store is allowed to return unsold books for full credit. If 10,000 copies of your book ship out in the first six months of publication, 3,000 could come back in the second six months.

While the publisher is going to count initial 'sales' against the advance they may hold some money in reserve in case your books come back. BTW, the publisher will likely want to give you just two statements per year. Insist on quarterly. Even that will mean you won't see any money over and above the advance for some time after publication, IF the book sells well.

How well a book sells is often determined by how many people know the book exists and that is often determined by how much effort the book's publisher--either the publishing company or you if you self-publish—puts behind the book. Publishing operates on small margins and is known for high staff turnover. A not uncommon phenomenon is for the editor who signed up your book to have 'moved on' before it comes to market, or for the publisher to have shifted focus. The enthusiasm you saw when they presented you with the contract has ebbed and although your book is in their catalogue there is nobody 'pushing' it to the big chains and reviewers. Alternatively, the big chains were eager at the outset but now have lost interest.

These are some of the factors that are beyond your control when you sign with a publisher. At least if you know about them you can plan to counter them. Don't bask too long in the glow of signing the contract. Deliver the manuscript as fast as you can and keep in touch with your editor to maintain the buzz.

By now you might be wondering why you would even bother with a major publisher. I know I found myself wondering and I have tried self-publishing. But in fact, there are several very good reasons to publish a book with a major publisher. First is the "authority" factor. Not sure if authority is the best word for it, but what I mean is: You come across as more of an authority, more likely to be accepted as the real deal, if your book is published by a big name publisher or a publisher who is respected in your field, whether it is animal behavior or literary fiction.

Second, publishing with an established publisher, particularly for a first book, is a great way to learn the ropes. What is good copy editing and how cruel does it need to be? What is stacking? What's a galley proof and what can you do with it? So, doing your first book with a big publisher is actually a good fit. You get the credibility and you learn a bunch of stuff that will come in handy if you decide to self-publish later.

Notice I said "good reasons to publish 'a' book with a major publisher." You might find that one is enough with a big publisher. Or you may decide you just want to go ahead and get on with putting out a book.

Publish or be Published: Part Trois

So, by now you're probably chomping at the bit for some examples of how the numbers work in publisher. A traditional publisher may offer a royalty that is somewhere from 10% to 15% of the net price. The net price is what the publisher gets for the book. The publisher sells the book at a discount to bookstores. This varies and used to be about 40% but domination by just a few big book chains has forced it closer to 50%. That means if the price on the cover is $20 you may get 10% of $10 or $1 per book. You might get as much as 15% of $12, which is $1.80 but I wouldn't count on it. Remember that royalties on foreign sales are likely to be half of domestic and book club sales are often at a special discount (all of these things are technically negotiable but it might be hard to get a publisher to budge from their standard terms).

Now, a publisher may well be happy with a first run of 6,000 to 7,000 copies that sells close to that number. So an advance of around $10,000 is quite common. You may get a check for that on signing the contract or staged over the delivery of the manuscript (one third on sgning, one third at halfway, final third on final mnanuscript approval).

Now, I am pretty sure you can get on the New York Times Best Seller list with one week sales of 10,000 or more [but would be happy of someone could correct me or expand on that]. So a book that is a "best seller" may sell only 30,000 copies and I am under the impression that sales of that level for a literary novel are considered good. In that case the author may earn $40,000 or so. Not bad, but relate that to the time taken. A lawyer or other professional may well bill at $300 an hour or more. Earn $30,000 from a book and you are looking at less than three weeks of billable hours. And the publisher will likely tell you this is a very good outcome.

Publish or Be Published: Second Part of Several

Fortunately for authors, if a book goes to press and sales do not generate enough royalty to cover the advance, most publishers do not ask you to return the unearned portion. (If your experience has been different, I'd love to hear about it—heave a comment.)

Suppose Madonna gets a $1 million advance on her autobiography but sales are way less than the publisher expected (I know I am not going to buy a copy). Will Madonna have to hand any money back. No.

Bear in mind that I am talking about advances on books that actually go on sale. If you don't deliver a manuscript that meets the publisher's requirements [which are specified in the book contract, which was agreed between you and the publisher] then you may well be asked to return the royalty.

That said, it seems to be a point of honor among publishers not to ask for unearned royalties to be returned if they go through with publication (they figured the sales would be enough to cover it and so asking you for the unearned portion would be a loss of face). I must have written a dozen books that did not earn their advance and never had a request for a refund, so to speak. Some still sit on the publisher's ledger as negative balances.

And here is a lesson: If you are writing a book for money, never count on it earning more than the advance. You simply cannot afford to do that because you are not in charge of the publishing process. This is true however strongly you feel about the book's irresistible appeal to the masses. There is a lot you can do to promote your book. But there is a lot a publisher can neglect to market your book if they lose interest between signing that book contract and printing the first run. Certainly in the field of technical books, publishing houses seem happy to publish a lot of books with mediocre sales, waiting for a break through book to come along. So, write for the advance and the rest is glory or gravy.

To Publish or Be Published: First of several posts on being an author

A friend recently asked me about the benefits, if any, of self-publishing versus publishing. The scenario goes something like this: You have a book idea, or maybe even a manuscript, and you want the world to read it. What is the best way forward?

It is going to take quite a few posts to answer this, so before I get to it, you might wonder why my friend asked me. I have self-published and been published. I have had twenty-some books published by traditional publishers such as McGraw-Hill (the photo on the left is me as a much younger person, leaning on a stack of books I wrote--each one is a different title, although to be fair, some are foreign translations). These were technical books and most of them were commissioned. In other words, the publisher had already decided that a book about subject X was needed and I was asked to write it (this happens a lot more than many beginning non-fiction writers realize). A few of them were books where I suggested X, but I suggested a lot of X's that were not picked up by the publisher.

My "break-through" book was about a subject that was my idea, but the publisher only agreed reluctantly and really the book only happened through an odd set of circumstances. What do I mean by "break-through"? I don't mean best-seller. Relative to some of my books, sales were dismal. But the book established me as an expert in a field that has been good to me. I was able to leverage my "expert" status to make money and this is an important first lesson for anyone thinking of trying to publish a book: I have made a lot less money from book sales that I have from the status of being a published author. Furthermore, I can generalize this—I have several friends and acquaintances for whom this is also true. And that's okay. I'm not complaining. Although I have learned some harsh realities about publishers along the way.

So this is something for you to think about as we look at book business numbers: Why are you writing the book? Is it because you want/need to make money? Are you planning to make the money from the book sales? The work that being a published author may bring you? The screen rights? Are you writing the book to make a point, change the world, help others? My advice to everyone is to publish at least one book, but don't expect it to earn you a fortune. In fact, be prepared for it to loose money.

Really serious cash flow from book sales alone is unusual. Bear in mind that stories of a "six figure advance" for a book often involve a writer who is famous (or infamous). That advance is a sum of money paid to the author at some point before the book appears in print. It represents an advance on the book's earnings, known as royalties and the book may not actually earn that advance. In fact, some of the most talked about book big money deals don't earn the royalty that the author got in advance. So what happens? Check the next post, coming soon.

The Intuitive Interface Myth: Why computers aren't any easier to use than they used to be

Back in the early Post-Columbrian era I taught computer classes, hundreds of them. Four hours each, these classes covered: Computer Basics, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, and Operating System. After taking those classes you would know how to turn on a computer, create/save/print a document or spreadsheet, and make a backup copy of your work on removable media. You would also know the difference between memory and storage, RAM and ROM, and be able to answer qustions like "where does my work go wen the power goes out?"

Just 16 hours or two work days. Done and dusted. Or spend another four hours with me (or one of the dozen or so other trainers at our company) and you could build your own databases.

All of this without any "easy-to-use, intuitive graphical user interface." No hard-to-decipher icons, no tricky point-and-click devices, just simple taps on clearly labeled keys. Now, more than two decades later, a frightening number of office workers and home users have less clue about how to do their work and operate their computers than graduates of those archaic classes.

Why? The answer is going to be in some of my next postings. Meanwhile, consider this test. How easy and intuitive is A versus E? Twenty years ago option E was readily available and clearly labeled on the screen. Todays' screens are bigger, and have a lot more than two colors, but are applications any easier to use? I would argue No. Especially when if you want to talk about web apps, where almost every site has a different user interface (links are underlined, not underlined, underlined only on hover, colored differently, appear only when the arrow is over them, an icon not text, text not an icon, etc, etc).

I would hazard a guess that less than half of all people who use computers in their work today have received anything more than 4 hours of training on how to operate a computer. And that's a hazard, and accident waiting to happen, probably already happening if you dug a little deeper into the constant stream of security breaches being reported.