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.

 

Here’s How Shane Snow (Founder of Contently) Writes

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The following is an interview with writer Shane Snow, co-founder of the high-end brand publishing firm Contently, as told to Copyblogger.

About the writer…

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Shane. By day, I help run Contently, which I co-founded in 2010. By night, I attempt to commit journalism and, occasionally, urban exploration.

What is your area of expertise as a writer?

In descending order: Technology. Business. Media. Science. Pizza.

Where can we find your writing?

Journalism: shanesnow.contently.com

Blog posts: linkedin.com/today/posts/shanedsnow

Book: sha.ne/Smartcuts

The writer’s productivity…

How much time, per day, do you read or do research?

I spend more time reading than probably anything else. Unfortunately, most of it’s email. I try to read something every night before bed, and I’m always reading while on the train. Research happens in bursts. Or on neurotic impulse, like when you decide you need to know how they get the caffeine out of tea to make decaf.

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

I usually try to find a place where I can be alone. Sometimes in public is the best place to hide. I also try to write immediately after exercising, as I find some of my best ideas pop out then.

Do you prefer any particular music (or silence) while you write?

I listen to a single song on repeat over and over again to simultaneously create psychological movement and white noise. Currently, I’m about 500 plays into Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” and am considering finding a new track.

How many hours per day do you spend writing (excluding email, social media, etc.)? When is your most productive time of day?

Between two and 20 hours, depending on the day. Usually early morning or late night. Or late night turning into early morning.

Do you write every day or adhere to any particular system?

When I was working on my book, I wrote every morning from 6:00 a.m. to
8:00 a.m., and every evening from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. for 12 months. Otherwise, I usually just schedule a few hours depending on the writing project. Saturday is almost always a marathon writing day.

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

I haven’t experienced it. But I also write nonfiction. The story is already there. You just need to find it and tell it. Fiction seems really hard.

The writer’s creativity…

Define creativity.

Going to unexpected places.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

Jon Ronson’s writing makes me so jealous I want to quit. And I would kill to have lunch with Oscar Wilde.

Can you share a best-loved quote?

“Prepare to put mustard on those words. For you will soon be consuming them along with this slice of humble pie, that comes direct from the oven of shame, set at the gas mark ‘egg on your face.” ~ Richard Ayoade

How would you like to grow creatively as a writer?

I’m jealous of writers who have distinct voices. I’d like to develop that.

Who or what is your Muse at the moment (i.e., specific creative inspirations)?

Ryan Gosling. Okay, that’s a joke. But I like the guy.

What makes a writer great?

One of my favorite editors, Paula Span, used to say, “Great writing speeds you along.” The best writers in the world are those who can whisk you through 1,000 words in what feels like 10 seconds, or 100,000 words in 30 seconds.

The writer’s workflow…

What hardware or typewriter model do you presently use?

There are about seven antique typewriters laying around my house right now. All seafoam green. But I write on various Mac devices.

What software do you use most for writing and general workflow?

Evernote for research and drafts. Google Docs for docs. Various surfaces for notes, including the whiteboard wall to the right of my desk. At present, there is a paper plate on my desk with notes all over it from an inspiring conversation in my office kitchen. My co-founder, Dave, recently called it, “The Plate of Knowledge.”

Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?

No. Though I hear amphetamines help. Too scared to find out. Deadlines are sacred, so I try to file early whenever possible.

How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?

My favorite system for reporting is to record interviews in Rev (in-app or upload to Rev.com), which sends audio out for automatic transcription, and then to beam that directly into Evernote.

When I write notes, I make little checkboxes next to action items that occur to me during a meeting. I periodically go through my notebooks and check off the boxes, usually when it’s way too late.

How do you relax at the end of a hard day?

Sleep.

Just for fun…

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

I had a high school teacher named Mr. Lemons who cared so much that it had a really big impact on me. When his wife got cancer, he shaved his head so they could be bald together. Everyone should love people the way that guy did.

What do you view as your greatest success in life?

Being a good person. Hopefully I’m not failing too badly at that.

What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

Editors who assign stories and then don’t get back to you for months after you file. Makes me want to lose my mind. And yes, this is happening to me right now.

Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.

Oh man, I said this already. But I’m going to use this as an excuse to pick a second: Douglas Adams. That would be an amazing dinner.

If you could take a vacation tomorrow to anywhere in the world, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

I’d probably go back to O’ahu, where I used to live. Go surf with friends, then for a swim at Cockroach Cove.

Can you offer any advice to fellow writers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”

Read as much as you possibly can when you’re young.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

My first book came out September 9. It’s called Smartcuts, and you should totally get a copy or something.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.

On Twitter, @shanesnow, or ShaneSnow.com