Laments of the death of old-school blogging are missing something 2015
Kevin Drum's piece "Blogging Isn't Dead. But Old-School Blogging Is Definitely Dying" is not without some truth, but overlooks key things. Most importantly, that when old-school blogging was in its full flower, text was the only easy way to share yourself online. Now it's almost as easy to create and distribute art or audio or video or combinations of those as it was to submit a long post in the Blogger submission page. We have a great diversity of expression happening, particularly in video.
Beyond which now, with a good computing device in everyone's pocket, it's no longer necessary to save everything up into one chunk you laboriously craft over a long evening at home. The conversation truly can be dialogue, with reactions and riffs taking place within minutes or even seconds. Yes, Twitter and other easy technologies for portable sharing of ideas and images are sometimes knee-jerk, but heaven knows so have the comments under blog posts always been. Nor has >140 characters ever been an unusual length.
One of the strengths of new-school sharing is that it allows conversations to easily extend and expand not only over a growing audience but also over time. Yes, we had follow-up posts back then—and that inter-blog dialogue was always a joy—but it was hard to find and even harder to maintain momentum. Now, between Twitter and, to my mind the best combination of the old and the new, Medium, it's possible to more easily find the pieces of reaction which wander around the web, rebounding from and influencing each other.
I started blogging before the word was coined and have never stopped, but—like many—my means of output have expanded as opportunity grew. Wordy posts pour out of us when words are all we have, but we have so much more we can do now, and more ways to use our words. Since Flickr and Twitter and Medium and the opportunity to take my long-form work into finished books through self-publishing, I write fewer blog posts, but I am even more creative and connected through the web than I was back in the day.
Old-school blogging isn't dead, it's growing up, and growing up beautifully into something new.
Watching my author rank, but not too closely 2014
Not sure I ever got a screen shot or noted my Amazon author rank numbers during my first year as a published author, but before it rolls off the chart, here's my second and much of my third:
It fluctuates a lot—do not base your self esteem on this number—but it's clear that having two books out helps a lot. It'll be very interesting to see what happens when I add a third to the mix, which I hope to do next year.
I suspect that the few dramatic drops in 2014 (one of which was on my birthday, which I find rather uncivil) relate not so much to my books' performance, but rather to dramatically good performance of one or more other books in their category. That July downturn correlates well to a lot of social media chatter, for instance, about Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Bar Book, and I'm guessing many purchases of that excellent tome.
How to Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Ebook Disappointment 2014
Some lessons drawn from the how-not-to-do-it example in Tony Horwitz's New York Times op-ed, "I Was a Digital Best Seller!"
- If you've had a negative digital publishing experience, talk to a wider range of those who've published in digital format before concluding that your experience represents "a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers." It's possible that the farce wasn't entirely about the platform, but also your use of it.
- Ensure when you're contracting with a publisher that the expenses they've said they'll cover are covered as you go and that you are contractually well-protected should they not publish the piece as originally planned.
- Also budget your own expenses and degree of risk and, with those and what you've agreed on with the publisher, stay within the boundaries.
- Use potential future income as motivation to complete the contracted work, but by no means assume that that compensation will actually come to you. This holds true also for dreams of glorious enhancement of your reputation. Bear in mind, also, as expected sales figures get tossed about that the typical non-fiction physical book sells less than 3000 copies. Be excited about potential upsides, but be realistic—and don't count on them.
- Once again, ensure your contracts exist and that contingencies are in place which will incentivize the publisher to honor their deal with you and, ideally, publish and pay, or at least pay an exit amount and revert rights to the work to you.
- If you aren't great at the contractual/financial sides of the business, make sure to involve professionals who are on your side, and preferably with whom you have a long history of working together. They, like you, should be taking the long view of building your success and security. They, like you, should not assume that a single project will guarantee that success or security.
- Get realistic estimates of potential sales and income not only from the digital publisher who wants you to do work for them, but from others with experience in that industry and with that publisher. Get an understanding of how volitile sales indicators (such as Amazon Kindle best sellers) are and what kind of total sales they represent. It's important to know what kind of sales spike can shoot you to the top of a list and how those spikes relate to aggregate sales of the work over time. Do not assume any understanding you may have of physical book sales indications will translate to these new areas.
- Do not assume your publisher—digital or traditional—will put in the effort to bring readers and buyers to your work. Get a clear picture of what they will be doing to attract readers to your piece specifically. Above and beyond their planned effort (which like the potential returns must be taken with a grain of salt), you need to prepare to promote the work yourself.
- Before you take on a project, research and understand the audience(s) for it. What do they like? What formats will they pay for? How much will they pay? Use this as a reality check for the proposed compensation and expenses for the project.
- Before you take on a project, get a basic plan outlined of how you will reach those audiences. How do they learn about new works of interest to them? Whose recommendations do they trust? What communities do they participate in, and are you excited about participating in those communities too as you promote the work?
- If your past experience is with traditional publishing only, talk to a variety of authors who've had both success and failure with digital publishing. You should pay particular attention to their experiences with promotion, both what they did and what their publishers did, as well as to what worked and what did not.
- Thanks to frequently poor online browsing setups for ebooks—yes, iTunes Store, I am looking at you especially—random discovery of your work will be one of the least common ways for a reader to find it. People aren't generally poking around the shelves the way they do in physical bookstores. It's word of mouth and reviews on which you need to focus.
- Plan to prime the pump for those reviews by building enthusiasm for the piece through your own professional social network. (You have been building a Twitter following around your past work, yes? And you don't have that all muddled up with your personal tweeting, right? Ditto for your professional blog or regular community participation in your areas of expertise.) Thank your readers and encourage them (without being pushy) to review the work or spread the word about it.
- Work with the publisher to ensure that review copies will be sent out as quickly as possible, including—if you'll be releasing a physical version of the work as well as ebook—a giveaway through Goodreads.
- Do not assume that enthusiastic readers, the kind who'll recommend your work repeatedly, will be fooled by fake glowing reviews written by publicists or pals of the author. Build enthusiasm in those whose opinions would be trusted and whom you can expect to engage with the work in detail, writing a review that is clearly by someone who cares about the topic.
- Ensure that you have a contracted and reliable way to get copies of the work for yourself to use in direct sales (for example, at speaking engagements) and as another means to get review copies in the right hands.
- Once again, make sure that your rights to the work are very clearly spelled out in your contract and that there is a clear path for any rights the publisher has to revert to you under conditions of them ceasing to publish the work.
- Bottom line: Know the kind of writing you want to do, the hats you're willing to wear in the course of getting it in the hands of readers, and the realistic market for compensation for that writing with different kinds of publishers and (important and different!) through self-publishing.
Writing is a tough job to make pay; don't enter into the profession with just a dream and crossed fingers.
Nominated for a Spirited Award! 2014
Excited & honored to have The Art of the Shim nominated for Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards! Thank you!
Incredibly proud to be on this list! 2013
"At the beginning of 2012 we published a list of the top 20 cocktail books ever published. After two more years of reviewing books we think there are another ten books which deserve to be added to this list. These 'must-haves' will not only teach you the art of bartending but give you recipes to be inspired by and new movements that we think will drive forward the craft. We also welcome our first female authors to this list. They're listed in alphabetical order."
Diffords Guide: "Update: 30 cocktail books you need on your shelves"
A link, via Clay Shirky, serves as a reminder to me to explore poetry more often 2013
Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles
It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.
Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.
"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."
And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."
There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.
Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.
And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.
How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.
Source: Poetry (June 1999). [Via Poetryfoundation.org]
San Francisco Book Launch 2013
Announcing The Art of the Shim—a new book from Dinah! 2013
Hooray! My second book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, is now out in hardcover and ebook.
Building this book has been a fun time and—due to an aggressive sub-one-year production schedule—a challenge, but the results are beautiful. Kelly Puleio's photography is even better than my high hopes and the production quality on this, the first offset printed title from Sanders & Gratz, is excellent. I'm very happy that the book has the sturdiness to serve its readers many years on their bar shelves.
Along the way I've been expanding my skills even further into the publisher realm. (Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff is print-on-demand in its paperback form, so inventory management and distribution is a new adventure.)
Some of the lessons have been painful. I've now learned the hard way that Amazon's record of a book can apparently get messed up if the release date is before Ingram has their copies on hand—or at least that's the only explanation I can find for Amazon suddenly switching the book's status to "Out of Print--Limited Availability" sometime between midday Saturday and midday Sunday last weekend. We're now on day four of no order button for the hardcover, which is enough to make anyone trying to launch a book tear their hair out.
Copies of the book are now in stock at Ingram's Oregon distribution center and lots more will be arriving at their Tennessee one today or tomorrow. Perhaps that will help kick the Amazon status back to normal (though I fear that if their techs don't identify and eliminate the bug, the problem would just come back the next time Ingram or their on hand count hits zero).
Next Tuesday (9/17) will be the New York launch at Pouring Ribbons bar and a week from Monday (9/23) will be the San Francisco celebration at The Booksmith bookstore. Looking forward to those events very much!
Even with bumps on the road, I'm having a great time as an author and a publisher!
The first book from Bibulo.us is out! 2013
The first book from Bibulo.us is out!
It's been a busy week. Thanks perhaps to favorable winds over the ocean, we got the surprise call from our shipper to coordinate delivery of 2000 copies of The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level a week early. Whee!
Due to a series of mishaps denying us expected resources, Dinah unloaded all 101 boxes before assistance arrived. Yes, cocktail nerd, author, stevedore; the complete Renaissance woman.
By this afternoon, books are scattering toward their future homes. Those of you ordering from bookstores or Amazon will be gratified to learn that your copies are already making their way to the distributor and thence to you. Ebooks will soon be available through multiple sources.
delivering thank you copies 2013
The most fun has been delivering thank you copies to the folks who have supported the project along the way: bartenders, advisors, beta readers, cheerleaders.
Now available for pre-order on Amazon, The Art of the Shim 2013
Createspace? Lightning Source? Where to self-publish? 2013
I weighed in on this independent publishers discussion with the following comment:
This is good advice and matches what I learned with my first book, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff.
Buy your own ISBN from Bowker (or, realistically, a group of 10 if you're also doing ebooks so you also have ISBNs for the EPUB and Kindle editions).
Sign up for Createspace and use them for their excellent prices on proof copies (also handy for creating review and Goodreads giveaway copies). Get your book looking great and prepare to build buzz. Do not use Createspace's Extended Distribution.
Sign up for Lightning Source (LSI) with the final version of your book now that you've done some proofing passes with cheaper copies from Createspace. Use LSI for reaching libraries and booksellers. Resign yourself to not making much money per copy through LSI and set the discount low enough that a bookseller will consider ordering from you. Bear in mind that LSI and Ingram or Baker & Taylor are both taking a cut out of that discount and that the bookseller also needs to cover their costs and make their profit in that slice. Once you add it up it's easy to see why booksellers aren't likely to even do special orders for something that's only got a 25% discount, especially if it's non-returnable.
Offer the Kindle version through Amazon's KDP program.
Offer EPUB versions through Apple's iTunes Connect and either (or both) Barnes & Noble's Nook Press and Google's Google Play. (Note: I have not yet published through the latter, but it is an alternative to the (in my experience) very low-selling Nook/BN.com world. If you want to reach a broader audience, it's important to have a non-Kindle, non-iTunes way for people to buy your EPUB edition, particularly if part of your audience prefers DRM-free books.
My second book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, is full of great photography and, while the color print-on-demand (POD) quality from both Createspace and LSI was very much better than I expected, it's not yet "coffee-table book quality" and my partner and I have decided to use offset press printing. We still used Createspace for proof and review copies.
Troubleshooting InDesign to EPUB Table of Contents export 2013
If you are, like I was, getting the error message "TOC entry has incorrect nesting level" when you try to export from InDesign to EPUB, try this.
This seems to be an error in the hierarchy of TOC style levels and probably means you've got a lower level item listed before the higher level of which it is a sub-part. For example, I seemed to have a style I called "section headline" coming up before any of my "Part"s or "Chapter"s. So how to find it?
First, you need to know which style is causing the issue. I created a new TOC style called "EPUB TOC troubleshoot" and one-by-one added in the TOC styles I wanted to include from the highest level down, exporting to EPUB after each one until I got the error message.
Once you know which style is nested incorrectly, now you need to hunt down where it's out of the hierarchy. In InDesign CS6, go to Edit > Find/Change (or hit command or control F). Use the little icon beside the 'Find What' box to set it to look for Wildcards > Any Character. Us the little icon beside the 'Find Format' box to set it to look for Style Options > Paragraph Styles > [whatever your offending style seems to be].
You know what mine was? The section headline on the print version's table of contents page. Ha! I created a new style from that named "section headline TOC" so that it would be separated from the rest of the section headlines in the book which I wanted to use for my EPUB TOC and then, hooray! I exported without an error. Phew.
Printing has begun! 2013
Printing has begun! We should get three airmailed copies (for promotion photos, showing to bookstore buyers, etc.) in about a month. Great to have this beautiful hardcover on its way!
approaching readiness for the printers 2013
It's very exciting to see the book approaching readiness for the printers—even more so now that everything is falling into place to bring The Art of the Shim out in a beautiful hardcover edition! (Not to worry, ebook fans; it will also be available in digital formats too.)
announcing The Art of the Shim on Facebook 2013
The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level is a celebration of being able to fit more drinks into an evening without getting stupid, sad, or sick. Smart drinking doesn’t require giving up cocktails or alcohol entirely, nor must we resign ourselves to a monotonous diet of simplistic, syrupy concoctions. Fans of sophisticated beverages can switch into a lower gear without giving up everything they love about cocktails. In brief, this book advocates more drink, less drunk.
Stay tuned for more information about the book and when it will be available.
Who is creating the recipes? The book will include a mix of recipes old and new, by some of the best bartenders in the world.
Will it be illustrated? Yes! With gorgeous photographs of each of the featured drinks.
What format will it be in? Trade paperback and a variety of ebook formats, including a version suited for tablets.
First Bibulo.us Facebook post 2013
Four years ago, on the Bibulo.us cocktail blog, we praised low-alcohol cocktails and dubbed them "shims" (http://www.bibulo.us/2008/12/in-praise-of-the-shim.html). Now it's time to bring together in one book some of the best examples of this kind of drink.
The Week Behind 2013
It's been a good week, with much satisfaction arising from the current book project, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level. All the amazing conversations of the week before and much digging in old cocktail books, thinking about principles of drink creation have been percolating in my head. This resulted on Tuesday in my finalizing the first draft of the Bibulo.us Cocktail Taxonomy and posting it for comment. Mostly Twitter chatter in reaction so far, but the process of articulating my principles for others has, as usual, clarified them and this structure is performing well as I continue to research old recipes and organize the book's recipe candidates.
This pleasant creative burbling all week was accompanied by a big experiential spike in the form of an amazing concert Sunday at the new SF Jazz Center in honor of Bobby Hutcherson. Wonderful sound and great performers! Such a joy to have this resource so close to our home.
Around those themes the week swirled along quite well with a nice mix of home life and time out on the town and up in Napa county for Joe's work.
Proud: I have been keeping up my exercise routine! Between the Fitbit, the treadmill desk, and Zombies, Run! I am able to make myself put in the effort and seeing my strength and endurance grow as a result. Very pleasing!
Completed: I think I can now say I've achieved mastery on maintaining a beautiful, uncluttered living space with minimal effort. Still projects to be completed and undulation in tidiness from day to day, but in general the place is within ten minutes of "company-ready" pretty much all the time. The fortnightly visit from the maid who does my most-hated chores (vacuuming and scrubbing porcelain) has helped tremendously in letting me put my energy into things that pay off without driving me nuts.
Learned: Twitter may not seem like it eats much time to quickly check now and then, but it is a huge time-suck if not constrained. Trying out a Pomodoro method timer to help keep me on track and not ducking into email/Twitter/etc every 10 or 15 minutes. Getting better at managing this will help me not only with completing the current to-do's but also with staying focused on work as my social media activity grows when the book comes out.
Inspired: The barfolk I've been talking to as I research the book have been just marvelous; generous, enthusiastic, customer-focused. Really looking forward to working with them a lot this year.
A few more thoughts on self-publishing 2013
- Scrivener and OmniFocus continue to be invaluable in my book writing and publishing process.
- Amazon's Kindle store sales represent just over 51% of the number of copies sold and just over 34% of the money earned, despite the $2.99 price tag. KDP first, last, and always; hugely important for self-publishers.
- iTunes sales represent nearly 21% of copies and nearly 16% of income. Their management interfaces may be a pain, but it's worth it.
- Createspace is great for selling print-on-demand copies through Amazon, but only use them for that. Lightning Source (LSI) is your better method for print-on-demand sales to distributors and thus bookstores and libraries. LSI allows you to set your terms and you will need to make sure they are attractive enough to bookstores. Make at least your U.S. terms (if you're in the U.S.) returnable and with a wholesale discount of 60% in LSI's interface so that after Ingram or Baker & Taylor takes their cut, the bookstore still sees a discount that allows them to make some profit to keep their lights on. That means you need to think about those terms as you set the book price so it doesn't actually cost you to sell the book wholesale. International terms may have other constraints, costs, or reduced payments to you, so read those details carefully as you go through your contract agreements and adjust your discount percentage accordingly.
- Promotion is a lot of hard work. Plan it and don't burn yourself out too early. It is a marathon. You should plan on beginning your work 3 months before you put the book out (e.g., setting up the book's website, creating your Amazon Author page, etc.) and continuing at least 9 months after the release date. If you're continuing writing in the same subject area, it doesn't really stop, but can wind down so you can focus on the next book.
- It took 15 months for Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff to reach 3000 sales, which is actually quite good for non-fiction from what I hear.
- Always always always carry some of your Moo cards with the book cover and details. People frequently ask "What do you do?" and it's great to be able to hand someone the card when they perk up after you tell them you're an author and describe your book. This makes sales and recommendation happen.
- Plan on doing a "second printing" about a month after release which updates your master files and corrects the inevitable few typos that you and your editor miss. I fixed around 13. Since then only a handful more have turned up and they are of the "missing period after that parenthesis in that one bulleted list" caliber of problem, i.e., fine to wait until I do a second edition (with content changes, and thus a new ISBN) years down the road. It'll never be perfect, but it needs to be near to garner great reviews.
- Make your book available in international markets as your ebook and print-on-demand services allow. You'll earn less per copy, usually, but it's worth it and is a whole other market in which your work might take off.
- Don't obsess over charts and stats; focus on getting the word out and tracking your actual sales numbers. List positions and similar data are worth looking at quarterly or so to understand trends over time. For example, here's the page on BookChart.info for Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff.
- Do pay attention to your costs; remember that you're going to be earning them back a couple bucks at a time and that you don't start getting paid for your actual time writing and promoting until you're in the black.
- One caveat regarding tracking sales: Apple's interface is a true pain in the rear and their fiscal calendar does not correspond to actual calendar months. I track sales in a spreadsheet and actually just enter the iTunes number for a month for each day (e.g., the KDP cell for last month has the value 47 while the iTunes cell has the value =0+1+2+1+1+0+2+0+1+1+1+1+0+0+0+2+2+0+0+3+1+0+0+2+0+0+0+0+1+2+0
- You do need to track your sales, though, or you won't be able to tell when the book has paid its costs or confirm you're receiving your share. (I will note that the only problems I've seen on the latter front working with these big vendors is where I wasn't getting payments at all due to an error in the bank account number they put in for direct deposit.)
- I find it useful to have a spreadsheet file per book (or other writing project with income or costs) and separate sheets within that file for costs, income, sales tracking, and consignment details.
- Though I have not sold a huge quantity through local consignment, it still represents about 4% of the copies and, because of the higher per-copy profit, about 10.5% of the money earned. That money comes at a high cost of my time and effort, though, so choose your consignment locations carefully. Select places where the book is likely to do well for both you and the store, and where it is not inconvenient for you to visit to restock them or retrieve unsold copies. In general, if they are willing to order through Ingram or Baker & Taylor (whoever you're able to get distribution through) it's going to be less work for both of you.
Happy writing and publishing! As usual, I'm happy to answer questions in the comments.
Oh historians, you crack me up 2012
“...some historians have linked the vagrancy problem with demographic changes, above all population growth and migration. It is true that migration was one step down the road to vagrancy, but whether by the time of their arrest most vagabonds were migrants is doubtful..."
- A.L. Beier, Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560-1640
One step down the road! *snork*
It's stuff like this that gets a writer through edit after edit, though many if not most of these in-jokes must be cut by the final version.
'Domestic Servants in Elizabethan England' rises again 2012
OMG academic libraries are so frickin' excellent. I'm back at UCSC's McHenry Library 25 years later updating & expanding my senior thesis.
Why is Google Books good for scholars/writers? Because books don't have complete indexes. Combing a 750 pager for keywords by hand is slow.
Happy author 2012
Ok, here we go. Someone ordering my book today will be getting copy #2000! Entering the realm of the mid-list… #indie #author @Discardia
A big milestone 2012
Hooray! I have just hit my original financial goal for paying the costs of creating my @Discardia book. Now for those SXSW expenses...
International Print on Demand, check. 2012
Switching my non-Amazon.com paperback printing for Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff to Lightning Source (for better control of terms for booksellers and libraries).
The terrible pain of reconciliation 2012
Each month as I attempt to reconcile my iTunes sales reports I am once again bewildered that this mess of an interface/data is Apple's.
Really, Apple, would it kill you to provide your reports by calendar month or at least provide daily sales totals across all regions? Gah.
Continuing saga May 4, 2012:
I receive this error on their website:
"You backtracked too far. The application backtracking limit of 30 has been exceeded. Re-enter MZLabel" (that last word being a link to a login screen).
Jeez, Apple. I thought you were in it to win it. This is just sad. Even BN.com's PubIt is kicking your ass on interface.