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Selling One Thing Really Well

May 10th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

Author Andrew Kessler in front of his bookstore

Last month, New York-based author Andrew Kessler opened a bookstore, as in, a store with one book — his own.

“The store is part marketing ploy, to be sure (Mr. Kessler is a creative director at an advertising agency), but also part meditation on the meaning of the book in an age of e-readers and a bankrupt Borders.”

Now that’s what we call specialization.




Working with a Ghostwriter

May 6th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

ghostWriting a book manuscript can feel like a Herculean task. Luckily, there are a variety of options for getting your wisdom into print. One of these options is working with a ghostwriter.

Maybe you you don’t enjoy writing, you’re not particularly good at it, or it takes you a long time (when you could be focusing on other things you actually are good at). If any of these things are true, you are a good candidate for working with a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter takes your ideas and puts them into words on a page. The ideas are still yours — you remain the author of the work — but the actual mechanics of writing are outsourced to a professional.

A ghostwriter typically interviews you to collect the things you want to say. As he does so, he’ll be listening for your voice or style of expression so he can reflect this in the writing. If you have a quirky sense of humor or a precise way of speaking, these things can shine through in your book; a good ghostwriter will make sure they do.

A ghostwriter is called a ghost because he’s invisible. Unless specifically negotiated, the ghostwriter will receive no author credit anywhere on the book.

Ghostwriting is an intensive process for both you and the writer. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll hand off the topic and wake up to a finished manuscript two months later. It usually takes hours and hours of interviews and collaboration to get all of the information that’s in your head into the writer’s hands. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to work with the writer.

Also be sure to have a solid written contract in place before beginning any work with a ghostwriter. A contract will typically include the following:

  • detailed description of the scope of services to be provided
  • statement of the fees and payment schedule
  • timeline for the work to be completed, including any project milestones
  • assignment of copyright in the work to you
  • statement that you are not required to credit the ghostwriter in the book

A ghostwriter should develop all the major pieces of your book, including the preface, appendices, glossary and so on if these elements are to be included.

At the end of the project, ask the ghostwriter to provide a few possible titles and sub-titles for your book. The writer will be intimately familiar with the work and should be able to provide some good suggestions that reflect the book’s content. You may or may not end up using any of the titles, but at the very least they could spark further brainstorming.

In non-fiction, hiring a ghostwriter isn’t cheating. It’s often a smart strategy that will let you and a professional writer each focus on what you do best. It can get you a completed manuscript faster and more efficiently than what you could do on your own — and that’s one big step closer to getting your ideas out into the world.

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You’ll find more advice on developing a book manuscript inside From Idea to Author, a step-by-step guide to self-publishing your non-fiction book.




An Idea Is a Network

May 3rd, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

Crowd Accelerated Innovation recently hit my radar. This is the concept described by Chris Anderson in his TED Talk on web video, which I blogged about not long ago.

Today, I stumbled across a connecting link. Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, says this: An idea is a network. Innovation most often occurs when people can share and discuss ideas freely, in coffeehouses, in break rooms and around water coolers.

If you tie Steven’s findings to Chris’s idea, you see why web video facilitates innovation so well: it allows people from all areas and walks of life to share and access new ideas rapidly. It also partially explains the explosion of innovation that has occurred with the rise of the internet, why social networks are useful, why blog comments are important. An idea is a network.

Here’s another look at Steven’s work on where ideas come from.

Where do your ideas come from?




How to Build Success into Your Non-Fiction Book

April 27th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

construction sign

On the self-publishing journey, there’s the production of your book and there’s the marketing of your book. Two separate things, right?

Nope!

How you create your book will have an impact on your marketing efforts. If you miss an important registration detail, fail to follow an industry norm or make it difficult for readers to find you, your marketing becomes that much more difficult.

While producing a great book doesn’t automatically guarantee sales success, a book with sloppy production values is hobbled right out of the gate. Here are some tips for building success into your book from the beginning.

Spend time on the title
Coming up with a great title isn’t easy, but it’s worth working on. Too many first-time authors try cramming a 25-word synopsis of their book into the title. They end up with titles that are insufferably long, hard to understand and impossible to remember. Yawn. Titles are usually very short, sometimes just one or two catchy words. The subtitle then picks up the job of describing the book in a bit more detail—but still use only five to eight words or so.

Hire a professional designer
People really do judge a book by its cover, even when it’s just a thumbnail. Whether people are browsing a shelf at their local bookstore or clicking through Amazon.com, whether they spy a copy of your book on a friend’s coffee table or reach your website from a tweet, the first they’ll see of your book is the cover. So much rests on the image your cover conveys that it’s foolish to risk a poor impression. Hire an experienced professional to design it. Can’t afford it? You can’t afford not to.

Register your book
Every book needs an ISBN. (Without one, you can’t even sell through Amazon.) Also register your book with your national library, whether that’s the Library of Congress or the National Library of Canada, and invest in having Cataloguing-in-Publication data created. These registrations ensure your book looks professional and is discoverable.

Remember the formula: If p, then e
Despite what you may read, print books aren’t in danger of disappearing anytime soon. Plus, print books still work best as gifts or client premiums; having something tangible to hand out is crucial to making the right impression. So it makes sense, most of the time, to plan on a print edition. Just don’t overlook e-books altogether. It’s so easy and inexpensive to spin off an electronic edition from print files that it should be an automatic part of every author’s publishing process. The more ways people can access your book, the greater the chance of a sale.

Edit your book well
Editing is last on the list, not because it’s least important, but because it supports everything else. You can have an outstanding title, a kick-ass cover and multiple available formats, but if people read your book and find the content stinks, you won’t go far.

  • Fill your non-fiction book with helpful information, not promotional copy. People don’t want to pay money to read a long brochure.
  • Keep it tight. If you can tell readers how to solve a problem in 200 pages instead of 300 pages, do it. If you can explain the topic in 100 pages, consider a shorter format, like a Kindle Single. Avoid padding just to hit a page count.
  • Watch your stale date. A book is no small project so it’s best to create a product you can sell for years to come. As much as you can, avoid information that changes frequently. Instead, focus on timeless principles and point people to your website for information that needs regular updating.
  • Hire a professional editor. In fact, hire a couple. At Highspot, we employ up to four different editors on each book because we know that fresh eyes at every stage of the process—from developmental editing through copyediting and printer’s proofs—help us catch more mistakes.

When self-publishing, it pays to think about your book like a traditional publisher: how can you get the best return on your investment? In a hypercompetitive market, give your book a fighting chance with top-notch production values, then market it as the great product you know it be.




Could Web Video Blow Your Industry Wide Open?

April 13th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

Today I watched a TED Talk from Chris Anderson on the power of web video to spur global innovation. On the surface, the idea didn’t seem too mind-blowing to me: yes yes, global sharing, people watch a lot of video, yadda yadda.

But I can’t stop thinking about the talk.


Chris opened with the example of a 6-year-old Japanese boy showing off eye-popping dance moves in a home video. He explained how watching that clip was a watershed moment for filmmaker Jon Chu, who realized that the internet was evolving dance:

Dancers have created a whole global laboratory online. Kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while teenagers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it to create a whole new dance style.

Something clicked with me. I caught an exhilarating glimpse of what web video might represent.

As the talk continued, a second idea caught my attention: Chris spoke of web video representing a communication shift as powerful as the invention of the printing press.

For millennia, humans have communicated face-to-face. The rise of the printed word a few hundred years ago allowed us to spread our ideas farther, sharing them with more people. Now we have the technology to bring those two worlds together: the power of face-to-face communication and the ability to spread that communication far and wide. Even better, we can distribute that communication instantly.

The globe is responding eagerly.

So many search queries are made for YouTube content that it can be considered the #2 search engine in the world. Did you catch that? Apart from Google, there is no other site that users search more often for content. Other staggering statistics: Users collectively upload more than 35 hours of video to the site every minute of every day. And the world watches 80 million hours of YouTube video per day.

Before watching Chris’s talk, I’ll admit I considered video an adjunct strategy for disseminating information. I know some people like to acquire information through reading it, some by hearing it, others by seeing a live demonstration. There are also the people that like to learn by conducting their own experiments. Well and good. This is why it makes sense to package your intellectual property in multiple formats, to appeal to multiple learning methods.

But now I think web video represents a much larger and more significant opportunity than I previously believed.

Watch Chris’s talk and see what you think. How could video blow your industry wide open? What could you share in a video that would allow people here and abroad to collaborate with you in advancing the world’s pool of ideas or processes or skills? What could Highspot share?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts.




Would You Turn Down a $500,000 Book Deal?

March 29th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

The blogosphere has been buzzing in the last month with news of two high-profile authors and their publishing choices.

On the one hand:
Barry Eisler, a bestselling thriller author, just turned down a $500,000 deal with his traditional publisher, opting to self-publish his next book instead.

On the other hand:
Amanda Hocking, an author who’s already made millions selling her self-published novels, has chosen to sign with a traditional publisher for a $2-million contract.

What gives? One successful author turns down a lucrative deal with an established house in order to self-publish, while a successful self-published author chooses to sign up with an established house. These seem like opposite strategies.

But both Eisler and Hocking have their well-considered reasons.

Hocking says it’s not about the money for her.

“Let’s be honest – if I self-published the Watersong series on my own, I could probably make $2 million within a year or two. Five years tops. I am fully aware that I stand a chance of losing money on this deal compared to what I could make self-publishing.”

Instead, Hocking’s looking for distribution muscle and mainstream exposure.

“Having large distribution is part of the reason why I wanted a deal, and part of that is having books in stores… I am getting an increasing number of emails from people who go into bookstores to buy my books for themselves or friends or family members, and not only does Barnes & Noble not carry my book, they can’t even order it for them. People are requesting my books, and they can’t get them.”

“I want to be a household name. I want to be the impulse buy that people make when they’re waiting in an airport because they know my name.”

Eisler feels ‘legacy publishers’ are out to lunch when it comes to the digital revolution. He wants the freedom to publish faster, charge what he considers optimum prices for e-books ($.99 to $4.99) and keep more of the revenue.

“I just don’t want to be part of an industry that doesn’t make sense, that’s fighting change rather than taking advantage of it. I want to make money by giving readers what they want, not by seeking ways to deny it to them.”

Hocking wants print books in bookstores. Eisler wants to focus on e-books.

Eisler says authors are leaving money on the table. Hocking says she doesn’t care about the money.

So who’s right?

They both are. Publishing with a traditional house has its benefits and its drawbacks. Same with self-publishing. One isn’t awful while the other is virtuous. It comes down to knowing what you want from your book and your writing career, having a realistic understanding of what each publishing route can offer, and choosing the one best suited to your goals.

Need help deciding? Try the 10-question quiz in our free Author’s Guide to Publishing Options. We profile both royalty publishing and self-publishing, along with the potentially tricky subsidy publishing model, laying out the pros and cons of each.




My Secret for Finding Content Creation Time

March 24th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

Consistently producing and sharing content is essential for any Thought Star — yet finding time to create content can be a challenge when you run a full-time business.

I’ve certainly had my own struggles with finding content time. I’d have multiple tasks to complete in a day — for example, writing something for the Highspot website, editing a Highspot special report, and reviewing a client manuscript. If time ran short and I could only do one, guess which one it was? Clients invariably came first.

Talk about the shoemaker’s children. I slowly (embarrassingly slowly) came to realize that if I didn’t make a change, Highspot knowledge products would never get done at the rate they needed to.

From Focus Days to Content Days
My business partner, Ross, is an associate coach at the Strategic Coach, a program for entrepreneurs. He’d told me about Focus Days — time that’s blocked off for productive tasks — but I hadn’t put them into practice because something about the concept didn’t quite fit for me.

Somewhere along the way it occurred to me to shift the idea slightly from Focus Day to Content Day — one day a week where I’d do nothing but internal Highspot work. With that subtle change, the penny dropped, or rather, what felt like a whole sack of pennies.

It felt ridiculously freeing to have one whole, uninterrupted day to dedicate to internal projects. I could take that extra 30 minutes to noodle an argument or that extra hour to finetune a report, and I didn’t have to feel guilty about what I wasn’t doing. Client work would get done — the next day. But for that eight hours, if I was working on an internal piece, I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Since implementing Content Days, my productivity has soared. Best of all for me, though, have been the emotional benefits. I feel excited and energized at the end of every Content Day. Where before I’d feel guilty for “stealing” time away from client projects, now I feel great about staying on task.

On the flip side, on non-Content Days, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the internal projects awaiting my attention. I know they’ll get their time. That lets me focus fully on client work, which has boosted my productivity on that side as well.

Make It Your Time
Regular content creation is critical for a thought leader. If you don’t already dedicate time to the task, make it a goal to start.

Can’t spare a whole day? Try half a day. Or two hours twice a week. But be firm with yourself about keeping the appointment. Block if off on your calendar like a meeting, and make sure your assistant and the others around you know you’re not available during those hours.

If Content Time doesn’t feel right for you, experiment with the focus. Maybe for you it’s Book Time, where you allow yourself the freedom to work on anything that will advance your book project. Maybe it’s Writing Time or Blog Time. Adapt the focus until it fits.

Let us know how you make out. If you already have a focus system, what are the factors that make it work for you?




Short-Format Content Hits a Sweet Spot

March 8th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

small bound book
For a couple of months now, I’ve been mulling over the idea of Kindle Singles, the ‘shorter than a book’ format that Amazon launched.

Singles are meant to be 5,000 to 30,000 words, and you can tell from the way Amazon describes them that they expect Singles to work best for non-fiction topics. I haven’t heard much buzz about them in the content world, which seems strange to me. I thought experts and authors would be all over the opportunity.

Singles are faster and less expensive to create than a book. You can use them to serialize a book in progress, or experiment with content to gauge reader reaction. You can publish your special reports as Singles. And all along the way, you can generate revenue.

I didn’t really think of the Kindle as a platform for publishing articles, but the other day I came across a report from Kate Harper on how to write and sell articles through Amazon. She talks about articles of 3,000 words and up — even shorter than the suggested range for Singles.

Harper’s article (available through Amazon, of course, for $.99) is definitely worth checking out. It outlines everything you need to know to get started selling short-form material on Amazon and the Nook. Lots of attention is paid to formatting your content, but Harper also covers how to price your material, how long it should be, and how to describe your article so people know what they’re getting.

The success Harper has had selling articles confirms it: There’s a sweet spot between blog post and full-length book that non-fiction readers are hungry for, something long enough to fully explain an idea but fast enough to be consumed in under 30 minutes. In other words, short-format content is valuable.

I’m off now to take a look at what Highspot might package for Kindle reading. What’s your short format strategy?




The Question of Quora

March 2nd, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

Quora is a website where people can ask questions and get answers from the community. In some ways, it’s similar to LinkedIn Groups, where members ask a question and others respond. In other respects, it’s like Twitter, where you have followers and see a feed of the latest questions scroll up on your home page.

Beyond that, I haven’t quite figured it out. I find it difficult to use (I know I’m not the only one) but maybe it’s because I haven’t spent enough time exploring it yet.

Authors, are any of you using Quora and finding it a great way to talk to people? What tips can you share?




What Dwindling Shelf Space Means for Self-Published Authors

February 24th, 2011 :: by Jennifer Tribe

bookstore with closing signs

The business of print publishing — producing physical books and shipping them here and there — has taken two more serious blows in the last month.

H.B. Fenn, Canada’s largest book distributor, filed for bankruptcy on Feb 3, leaving major publishers like Macmillan in the lurch.

Borders, the second largest book chain in the US, filed for bankruptcy on Feb 16. Though the company hopes to restructure and emerge with a pulse, it has set about closing more than 200 of its current locations.

These announcements are simply two in a long string from the past year, including the dissolution of Canadian publisher Key Porter and the closure of indie bookstore after indie bookstore.

The economics of moving print books across the country and around the world are becoming increasingly untenable. It’s relatively expensive to create, ship and store physical books, and with already razor-thin margins, traditional publishers, distributors, and booksellers are feeling the pinch.

But what does it all mean for you as a self-published author?

Physical space for selling books is decreasing
Sobering fact: Your book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. With shelf space dwindling, competition for what’s left is fierce. You think it’s hard getting your self-published book into a bookstore now? Expect it to get even harder. The thing is, while mainstream bookstore distribution is great if you can get it, for a lot of business authors, it’s not the only game in town.

Exploit other channels
You’ve got all kinds of other sales channels available to you, such as back-of-room sales at speaking engagements, bulk sales to special interest groups, direct sales to your client base, and online sales through Amazon. Use them.

Lock in your digital strategy
Yes, a print book still confers the most cachet, which is important for the freebies you give as gifts to clients and contacts. But don’t neglect the e-book market — it’s booming and will only continue to grow. At the very least, make sure your print book is available on all the major e-reading platforms. It’s not hard to do.

And start to think about ways you can establish your e-book as the premium gift. How about giving top prospects an e-book reader skinned with your book cover and a link to a free download of your book?

The print book market will be around for quite a while yet, but it will get increasingly harder for self-published authors to get distribution through mainstream channels. Pursue that distribution if you like, but don’t let it be your only or even primary strategy. Multiple channels for reaching readers are your best insurance.