Friday, July 28, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together

Editor’s note: If you are just joining us, this post is part of an intermittent series (indexed here), addressed primarily to the self-publishing author, in which I use an old conceit [3a], that of a wooden barrel as a metaphor for a process dependent on many inputs, to describe book publishing, with the volume of water in the barrel representing sales. The notion is that the level of the water is limited by the shortest stave.

So far I’ve touched on the major inputs involved in producing a book as an object. But if a book sits in your garage and nobody reads it, does it make any noise? No. And that means that the book is not a product. If it is not a product, you have nothing to sell and thus no expectation of recouping your costs, let alone reimbursing your time in writing the book.

What distinguishes a product from an object is, in the case of books, the business of publishing. Publishing—literally making public—means exposing the book to public view. This involves marketing the book: getting it reviewed, promoting it, advertising it, telling people about it any way you can.

Doing this requires a plan.

Okay, I know you just shuddered. Marketing is not something that a thoughtful, sensitive, introspective person like you is attracted to. You would much rather just put that beautiful object on your coffee table and admire it, pat yourself on the back for having produced it, wouldn’t you? If you are independently wealthy or someone else is paying your bills, you can indulge that fantasy. Otherwise, you need to draw up a marketing plan.

When? That depends. If you have spent the last decade and a half crafting the Great American Novel, it would not be reasonable to suggest that you should have planned the marketing before you started writing. For nonfiction, though, it often makes sense to have a marketing plan in place and underway before you write the first word of the book.

A marketing plan addresses a number of points:
  • Who is the book written for?

  • How large is the potential audience?

  • What is special about the book that will make it appeal to this audience?

  • What price will the audience accept for the book before they start to resist purchasing it and choose a competing book instead?

  • What influencers does the audience respond to?

  • What is the best way to activate those influencers?

  • What kinds of marketing activities make sense for the book?

  • When should those activities be scheduled?

  • How much time and money should be budgeted for those activities?
As I said, these are questions most authors would rather not have to deal with. Nonetheless, whether you write the marketing plan yourself or hire a consultant to develop the plan for you, the person who is going to drive the execution of the plan is you, the author. This is true whether you are self-publishing or working with a traditional royalties-paying publisher. It’s your butt that’s going to be in that car, shlepping from book signing to book signing, from local tv studio to local tv studio. If you’re not willing or able to devote the necessary time to readings, signings, and interviews, then your barrel doesn’t just have a short stave, it has a missing stave.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

For professionals' eyes only

Thanks to Geoff Hart for posting a link to The Saints of Communication today (note option to turn off sound in lower right corner of page). It is new to me although it may not be new to you.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Well, well, well-

A fellow copyeditor (one word, please) wrote to me a few minutes ago to point something out in my own writing that I was not conscious of. She noted that I had written about “well written and well edited texts from earlier centuries” and inquired as to why I had not hyphenated well written and well edited.

I replied:
It appears to be a habit I picked up along the way and misattributed to The Chicago Manual of Style. On looking it up just now, it seems that Chicago still wants those phrases to be hyphenated. I personally think, as someone posted a few weeks ago, that you have a lifetime quota of hyphens and should use them only when necessary. I don’t find any potential for ambiguity with “well” phrases, and so I’ve taken to treating them like “-ly” phrases—keeping them open except under conditions of potential ambiguity. But clearly I’m well out in front of Chicago on the point and perhaps I should reconsider.
So I’m reconsidering. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but I’m willing to listen to what others have to say. Feel free to comment.

Even editors need editors.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Break's over, back on your barrelheads

I began a couple of months ago to build a metaphorical barrel that represents the various inputs to successfully publishing a book. I got about halfway around the barrel and then took a break. The barrel holds no water yet (being only half built), and I will continue the construction soon enough.

This post is for the benefit of newcomers and is an index to the posts in the barrel series to date.

On Monday, July 24, barring unforeseen circumstances, Jeannette Cezanne will interview me live on the Web, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. I anticipate a fair number of listeners will pop over here to the blog, and it is those folks I have in mind in posting this index.

Note: all of these will open in the current window; if you want to open them in a new window, you can do so manually:

Gardening, garage software, and garage books
A fool for a client
The opposable thumbsucker
Rolling your own
The architect of the page
Covering the object

Other posts (see the list in the sidebar) are also of interest to self-publishing authors. The archives (see sidebar) include additional posts of interest to writers and editors; but in the archives the posts are simply chronological and not sorted according to topic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nothing on but the radio

Usually I walk to the post office, but I had a large parcel to mail today and, in this heat, decided to drive. On my way home, I caught a radio commercial (no, my radio is not always tuned to NPR), the first sentence of which was:
Before you go house shopping, get your mortgage pre-approved first.
How is that redundant? Let me count the ways. On second thought, I think it makes a splendid exercise for the reader.

Everybody needs an editor.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Gutenberg quandary

The man we call Gutenberg did not invent the printing press. He did not invent movable type. What he invented, with the help of some others, was a method of casting type. The story is told well in a number of places. (In particular, I enjoyed Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words, by John Man.)

But Gutenberg had a problem. The system he devised for assembling type into a page required that lines be of even length. That is, he had to set what we now call justified type. If you look at images of Medieval illuminated manuscripts, the high art of the monastic scribes, you can see that lines end where they end, roughly in even columns, but not precisely so. But the simple fact of placing metal blocks into a frame and locking them in place for printing requires justification (occasionally Gutenberg used a spacing quad at the end of a line, too, something we would not generally do today in justified text).

Breaking words at syllable boundaries was not something that necessarily occurred to Gutenberg. It was more important, with the textura letter style in which his first fonts were cut, that word spaces be consistent, so as to give the page what typographers call an even color. (Textura is so called because the page resembles woven textile. The words texture and text come from the same root.) Yet he did want to indicate somehow that words had been broken. To do so, he used a quill pen to make a hyphen to the right of any broken word. The calligraphic hyphen in use by scribes of the day was a pair of slanted short lines. You can zoom in on this image to see the variation from line to line, evidence that these hyphens were rendered by hand. Considering the many hours of hand illumination that went into each page of the Mainz 42-line Bible after it was printed, a few seconds to toss in the hyphens was not a major expense.

[An aside: Those illuminations were based on the manuscript known as the Göttingen Model Book, which provides step-by-step instructions for rendering them.]

Now if you look at the images of the 42-line Bible, you can see that the hyphens are not actually within the justified type column. Of necessity, they hang to the right of the column. It’s my hypothesis that it is precisely this practice, Gutenberg’s practical accommodation to the quandary of word division, that is the historical basis of the “hanging punctuation” that has been a desideratum of fine typography for at least the last hundred or so years.

Gutenberg’s slanted textura hyphen has also survived to this day as the standard proofreader’s mark for a hyphen to be inserted in composed text.

But you already knew all that, right?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Staff walks out; NLRB does not intervene

My entire staff walked out last Friday. This was mystifying to me, as we had a conflict-free relationship until then. But suddenly I was faced with slowdowns, work stoppages, corruption, vandalized files, theft of services. I could go on, but it’s just too painful.

It is astounding to me, even though I realize I’m in front of my laptop approximately fourteen hours a day, the extent to which my business is dependent on the good graces of the machine I am again typing on. Without it, there is very little I can accomplish in terms of my business. Oh, to be sure, I did finish up some gardening chores. And I walked to the farmers’ market on Sunday and got the first really tasty tomatoes I’ve had in a long time. But work? Not so much. Blogging? Not at all.

After many excruciating hours of telephone calls to Dell, Symantec, and Adobe, plus lengthy and complex correspondence with Microsoft, plus additional long hours of uninstalling software and reinstalling most of it, all my troubles were traced to, of all things, a hardware failure. We see them so rarely these days that the presumption is always user error, and so the troubleshooting guides always start with uninstalling and reinstalling software, putting the burden on us users. In fact, the test to check the hardware could have been done on my first call to Dell, would have taken less than five minutes (as it eventually took), and would have gotten my machine up and running four days earlier and in better condition than it is now. I am not happy about this (can you tell?).

The good news is that I do back up client files. No work was lost. The bad news is that the major corporations we depend on to get through the computing day do not put enough thought into the design of fault trees. The result is untold millions of dollars of cost imposed on their customers—a real drag on the economy—that could be prevented easily enough with a simple change in attitude on the part of customer service managers.

Given the opportunity, technical writers are glad to work with technical support analysts to design fault trees from the user’s point of view. Clearly, though, they are not given the opportunity. Instead, troubleshooting systems always give the highest priority to shortening the phone call, not to solving the customer’s problem.

It’s a shame.

And my laptop? It still has scars and will until I decide to take three days to reformat the hard drive, reinstall all my software, apply a gazillion updates to all that software, and reload all my files from backup. Chances are I’ll procrastinate about that until push comes to shove.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If u cn rd ths

Wired News is carrying an Associated Press story about yet another attempt at “reforming” English spelling, by which the proponents mean turning a perfectly reasonable orthographic system on its head and turning the writing system into gibberish.

Ho-hum. Again, huh? Will they ever learn?

There have been successful spelling reforms (in , in , and in , for example). There have also been failed spelling reforms, in most recently.

The last successful spelling reform in English was promulgated by a certain , of Massachusetts, although many, on both sides of the pond, have tried repeatedly since.

What the successful attempts have in common is that they preserve the information contained in the original orthography. Changes are small and subtle and do not discard etymological clues. What the crackpot schemes have in common is precisely that they discard all etymological coding in favor of phonological coding.

Some people spell well. Some people don’t. Part of it is early training. Part of it, I’m convinced, is genetic. But throwing out the baby with the bathwater is not going to help anyone spell better. Have trouble spelling? Learn to use a dictionary. Harrumph!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Benjamin Franklin on the editing process

In honor of the holiday, this passage from a letter wrote to , 4 December 1818:

When the Declaration of Independence was under the consideration of Congress, there were two or three unlucky expressions in it which gave offence to some members. The words “Scotch and other foreign auxiliaries” excited the ire of a gentleman or two of that country. Severe strictures on the conduct of the British king, in negotiating our repeated repeals of the law which permitted the importation of slaves, were disapproved by some Southern gentlemen, whose reflections were not yet matured to the full abhorrence of that traffic. Although the offensive expressions were immediately yielded these gentlemen continued their depredations on other parts of the instrument. I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations. “I have made it a rule,” said he, “whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, ‘John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,’ with a figure of a hat subjoined; but he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word ‘Hatter’ tautologous, because followed by the words ‘makes hats,’ which show he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words ‘for ready money’ were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, ‘John Thompson sells hats.’ ‘Sells hats!’ says his next friend. Why nobody will expect you to give them away, what then is the use of that word? It was stricken out, and ‘hats’ followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to ‘John Thompson’ with the figure of a hat subjoined.”