|Volume 3: No. 27|
Scott French is making headlines with his novel "Just This Once," written in the style of Jacqueline Susann. Reviewers say it's a pretty good "trash novel." French says he could have finished it seven or eight years ago if he hadn't programmed the Nexpert Object prompting system that helped him with the writing. (He credits authorship to his computer, Hal, "as told to Scott French.") 25% of the sentences come directly from Hal; another 50% are from man-machine collaboration. French would supply the "cattiness factor" for a conversation, for instance; Hal would generate a sentence or two and then ask further questions. [NYT. SJM, 7/2/93.] The first printing is 15,000 copies at $18.95 -- probably not enough, given the exposure on Good Morning America (7/6), USA Today, etc.
I recently finished "How to Write a Book Proposal" by Michael Larsen, 1985. Book proposals are similar to research proposals, and considerably easier than business proposals. Some particulars: Editors are used to 60-character lines (unjustified), 25 lines per page -- or about 250 words per page. (Editors have neural networks just like the rest of us. Give them the inputs they're trained for.) Use 20-pound bond, or perhaps textured stock. Use a new ribbon or high-quality printing and photocopying. Don't bind or staple the proposal, but number the pages consecutively and mark each at the top with your last name, a slash, and the first significant word of the title. You will need a title page, table of contents, project introduction, and chapter outline (e.g., a one-page description per chapter). The introduction is where you really sell your project, with due attention to market factors and competing books. Know who you're selling to, how you can reach them, and what will convince them to buy your book. State the length of the book, the number and kind of any illustrations, and any other particulars. Also tell what resources you need and tell enough about yourself to establish your credibility and marketability. Two sample chapters (30-50 pages total, or 10% of the book) or perhaps more are required unless your previous publications are sufficient evidence of competence. Mention that more chapters are available if that is the case. A double-pocket portfolio makes a nice cover; use the left pocket only for press clippings or other extraneous material. Your cover letter should be one page, single-spaced. (Call first, then write about the publisher's expressed interest in your book.) You may submit a book proposal to multiple publishers if you mention it in the cover letters, but ask before sending it to multiple literary agents. Let other people proof-read the proposal -- the more critical, the better. Send the proposal in a manila envelope or a #5 mailing bag with five staples. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed mailer if you want the material returned; otherwise send a stamped, self- addressed #10 business envelope and mention that you don't need the material back. Use return-receipt mail or a self-addressed postcard if you need confirmation of delivery; don't call the editor unless you haven't heard within his or her typical response time (e.g., eight weeks). Use the waiting time to write your next proposal. If your work is rejected, send it to another publisher. Large publishers can offer the most money but require top-selling books; smaller publishers can take more risks and can give you more attention. Even well-reviewed books fail, and it may take time to find a publisher willing to invest $40K in the project. You have little control over timing, marketing channels, and such; just don't let there be any doubt that you have a deep concept and the ability to turn it into a compelling book. Make your proposal have the same emotional impact as the book itself.
Scott Knaster says that even a well-known technical book is seldom financially rewarding (when professionally published). Knaster wrote "Macintosh Programming Secrets," now updated by Keith Rollin. (A disk with the book's extensive C code is available for $20. The first edition was in Pascal.) Knaster is also known for "How to Write Macintosh Software." [SEF, 6/92.]
Remember Edward Tufte's "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"? Tufte is a Yale graphics professor who hocked his house in 1983 to self-publish the book. Forbes estimates his pre-tax profits at about $750K by 1987, on 61K copies. He's now sold 140K copies (for $1.7M total?). Tufte's sequel, "Envisioning Information," was published in 1990 with $700K from the first book. At $48 list, 60K copies so far have probably brought him $1.2M. His next book, "Visual Explanations," will be out by 1995. [Forbes, 11/23/92, p. 18.]
Self-published books include Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" and Richard Nelson Bolle's "What Color is Your Parachute?" Two self-published books are now on the Times best-seller list (4/93); others are doing well in regional or specialty markets. Marilyn and Tom Ross of About Books (Buena Vista, CO) are self-published authors who tells others how to self-publish. Major wholesalers accept very few of the 100 self-published submissions they get each day, but self-published books often do well through direct mail, gift shops, sporting goods stores, 800 numbers, or as premiums for other products. [Esther B. Fein, NYT. SJM, 4/26/93.] I highly recommend the Ross's book, "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" (Writer's Digest Books).
A new self-publishing book is "Publish and Flourish -- A Consultants Guide: How to Boost Visibility and Earnings Through a Publishing Strategy" by Garry Schaeffer and Dr. Tony Allessandra (Wiley, $24.95). [Michael Pellecchia, SJM, 9/14/92.]
If you're publishing a magazine, Gary M. Hite suggests renting a 135ppm Xerox DocuTech Production Publisher with thermo-glue binding, finishing, and shrink wrap capabilities. He also has a 35ppm Xerox 4035 laser printer on a Novell network and a Xerox fax/scanner/copier with 10-bin collator connected via Ethernet. Always evaluate speed first, then paper-handling options, and only then special features such as electronic reduction. If you can't afford the rental on a new copier, look for trade-ins with assumable leases. [gary.m.hite @p88.f101.n270.z1.fidonet.org. Jack Decker (email@example.com), misc.entrepreneurs, 4/8/92.]
Tracy LaQuey Parker says that network publication of her book chapters (in ASCII) has increased sales. Addison Wesley and the Online Bookstore (firstname.lastname@example.org) have received orders from countries where they had never done business before. This could be a special case, though, as her book is about the internet. [Stu Weibel (email@example.com), VPIEJ-L, 4/20/93.] Brendan Kehoe had a similar experience: network copies of the first edition boosted sales of the second edition. His first draft had already circulated on the net, and Prentice Hall had been nervous about allowing it to remain available for FTP. "Don't let anyone copy it, just let them look at it." [firstname.lastname@example.org.] Harald Lux has seen several studies finding that net access to technical abstracts does not affect journal subscriptions by end users, but does lead to more journal subscriptions by for-profit institutions. [email@example.com- marburg.de.]
Minitel's LISIERE Publishing service has put writers in contact with their audiences since 1991. More than 200 authors and poets are online, and more than 10K people read them (and sometimes write to the authors or become authors themselves). One limitation is that Minitel currently supports only fourteen 40-column lines per page. Service rates in France and much of North America are about $.24/minute or $14.40/hour; 2/3 goes to the author or publisher. Call (212) 399-0080 or (914) 694-6266 for access software. [Jack Kessler (firstname.lastname@example.org), PACS-L, 4/16/93.] The enabling technology is in the billing, as for phone service or dial-up information services.