Author Interview: Portrait of a Solo Infopreneur

Written by Layne Maheu

LarrySwansonLMP-avatar(med-res)The upcoming chapter meeting, Publishing in the Digital Age, includes author Larry Swanson, whose reference manual, Scared Sitless, was released this month through Elless Media. Though not a member of the panel, Larry is emblematic of the very things authors and publishers should be doing these days to promote their work.

Larry is a personal trainer and massage therapist in downtown Seattle, as well as a self-described solo infopreneur, a hybrid term he believes he made up, which combines solopreneur and infopreneur into one dynamic package. Following is an interview I did with him.

Layne: Larry, tell us about your book.

Larry: Scared Sitless is an evidence-based, science-backed, how-to manual for office workers to prevent and treat Sitting Disease and other hazards of office work. It also includes chapters on ergonomics, posture, and exercise.SS final cover only

Layne: How did you decide on a format for your book?

Larry:  I chose the format based on how I perceived people might want to read it. I went with both an eBook format, which is pretty popular right now. And since it’s a book geared toward office workers, people who are at their computers all day, they’re probably down on alternative media.

A lot of people have asked, “Well, where’s the book book?” (That’s my background, in traditional print.) So I wrote it as a book book. I’ve always pictured this thing you could pick up and read. So it’s in a 170-page paperback format as well.

Layne: Your book is self-published, correct?

Larry: Yes.

Layne: Do your publishing efforts have a name?

Larry: The company name is Elless Media.

Layne: How are you getting the word out about your book?

Larry: My goal with this platform building is I want to be that guy who’s known for knowing all about Sitting Disease for office workers, and I already am. The paperback wasn’t even out when I got a call from a PR consultant in New York who wanted to connect me with an ergonomic furniture manufacturer to do some events with them. I’m also meeting with the founder of Work While Walking, the world’s first treadmill desk store, where I’ll take a peek at their next generation, latest, greatest, coolest treadmill desk. So, I’m the man! 

Layne: Currently your paperback sells as print-on-demand. Did you ever consider a print-run with a storage of books?

Larry: One of the big opportunities with my book is in special sales into the corporate market. And the way that works is you go to a company’s office, for instance, Google, and they say, what a great idea, I would love to help my office workers at work. They buy 10,000 copies of the book, and I give them a huge, deep discount. That’s when I go from print-on-demand to short-run offset printing, which I thought of in advance. I designed the book with a page count divisible by 16, which is the increment used in offset printing. Plus, when I’m doing my speaking engagements, I’m going to want to have ready-made copies to sell.

The beauty of print-on-demand publishing is that you can prototype the work. You eat a bit of the cost because the unit price goes up. Then as soon as you’re confident of the demand, you can print 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 on a conventional offset printer, and your unit price goes down. So, that’s one of the opportunities—special sales.

Layne: Will you be coming out with subsequent editions? Will there be a third and fourth edition of Scared Sitless?

Larry: I don’t know how much things will really change, if Sitting Disease will be cured tomorrow by some miracle drug. So, I’m not sure; I’m holding out for the option. But for now, I think the title is prescient; it’s perfect for what I want the book to be. Again, I’m doing the platform thing.

Maybe this book is just the foundation for the enterprise and subsequent development of separate books. Already I have six or seven other book ideas that I could write about ergonomics, self-assessment, exercise ideas, or posture stuff. Or any one of the chapters of the present book could be a separate book. And there are other self-care aspects to office work that I haven’t even covered yet, things about nutrition, sleep hygiene, self-massage, and vision. You know, eye sight is huge. And all of these issues tie into the original concept, so the book is just a launching point. You know that whole idea of throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m throwing this out there to see what part of it sticks, see if it inspires conversation, see if it gets people interested, and go from there.

You can see Larry’s Scared Sitless promotional video and website, or order his book from Amazon.

Layne Maheu is author of Song of the Crow, published by Unbridled Books in 2006, and moderator of the panel.

Today’s Book Publishing Options

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Written by Layne Maheu

It is unlikely that back in the 1440s scholars and clergy were wringing their hands over the future of the book because of the invention of the printing press. Would texts created from a movable-type of press be any less authentic than manuscripts painstakingly scribed by some nearsighted monk hunkered over a candle? Would an abundance of printed texts in the throes of the book water down its quality?

The advent of digital printing might not usher in another Age of Enlightenment, as did the cascading innovations from Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, but many traditional publishers are now voicing such doomsday scenarios–and for good reason: eBook sales are now 30% of the market, outselling print books in many genres. This number factors in the huge shift caused by Internet book sales. With an article like “Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers” (Vox, Oct. 22, 2014), you can see why publishing houses might be concerned.

This need not worry the writer of books, though. As an author, you have a lot more options than you ever did. You can seek publication through any of these means:

  • an independent press, light-on-its feet, innovative, and specialized
  • a team platform, such as the local Book trope, where you compile an editor, graphic artist, publicist, etc., who all work on spec
  • the traditional book-publisher/agent
  • print-on-demand, offering complete freedom to self-publish with little upfront
  • a PDF generated solely by you and sold completely through your own online efforts
  • a spinoff from a blog
  • an entire product line of related material sold through your chosen venue(s)
  • a niche work of specific interest, integrated with or generated by social media

Within these options are more choices still. You can go digital only or print only. With many publications, such exclusivity has its merits. You can attach an audio book option or include it as a bonus package. Or, you might be happy simply seeing yourself in print regardless of other outcomes.

Although it’s easier than ever to get published, more than half of self-published authors earn less than $500 per year from their efforts. Some get in the six-figure range, but these authors usually have an existing audience from previous works. The hard part is finding an audience, identifying your potential market, and engaging the appropriate media. Even with traditional publishing, the author is often the largest contributing factor to successful book marketing.

Rather than the Age of Enlightenment, the Internet can make ours seem like the Age of Distraction. It’s up to the individual author to put together a meaningful message, define an audience, and make that message resonate.

Layne Maheu published the novel Song of the Crow with Unbridled Books in 2006 and is a member of the panel “Publishing in the Digital Age.”

Documentation and the Case for Better Navigation

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Some of these ideas are from Mark Baker’s blog, Every Page is Page One.

The first challenge of documentation is to get the user to use the product. It doesn’t matter how usable it is if it is so off-putting in appearance that no one tries to use it.

Some of the things we document are complicated, but it doesn’t mean that every individual task, feature, or concept needs to be complicated. Throwing all the content in the user’s face when they look for help with something simple is distracting. It only serves to discourage users from trying and learning.

Take the classic tri-pane help system. It may be full of utility–multiple ways to view and navigate the content, multiple buttons to push to move around it in different ways. But, it screams “Look how big and complicated I am. Look at how many pages there are. Look at how deep they are nested. Look at all these controls you will have to use to navigate me!”

A PDF is far less usable than a well-organized online help system, but it is actually clearer. It presents a single pane and a search box, and everyone knows how to use a PDF. Videos are even better, but they are lousy for many tech comm tasks — tedious, impossible to navigate, impossible to search, impossible to use for reference— but their entire interface is a single triangular button. No wonder users ask for PDFs and videos even when they are not appropriate or usable. They just look so much better.

With the web, the user is not restricted to a TOC or index — you can offer relevant links on every page that allow them to move effectively through the content without ever being aware of how extensive it is or how complex the product is. If they want to explore any of the topics, they can do so simply by clicking a link. Each topic is a navigation hub.

Adopting this view of organization is important because as our content becomes larger and more dynamic, it becomes more and more difficult to navigate using a fixed table of contents. Seeing everything at once is too overwhelming or general, and artificially segmenting it is too confining.

With the web model, you can create documentation that looks simple while remaining thorough and comprehensive in the depth of its coverage. This way, you can have a large information set with manageable navigation at every point, but still have the ability to travel very far across it.