I started the new year with some prioritizing so I could focus on one major project at a time.
What I’m working on
First I finished up the draft of my new fiction manuscript (working title: Intelligence), which will go to developmental editor Tanya Gold in March. I’m excited to get Tanya’s feedback on the manuscript, and also (from an editor perspective) to see the developmental editing process in action. Tanya reminded me to think about marketing Intelligence, even though it’s far from publication. It’s hard to know what’s going to change, but I’m hoping to stick with the title so I’m adopting the hashtag #IntelligenceBook for future use on Twitter.
My current priority is learning everything I can about today’s self-publishing, in preparation for a talk I scheduled at the Orange County Public Library (Hillsborough) on May 20 at 2 PM. Last year I wrote a booklet, published by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), about “do-it-yourself self-publishing,” which is my area of expertise. However, even an author-publisher who wants to do the entire process herself can benefit from some of the services now available. So I have been taking webinars and reading about distribution, e-books, and more to broaden my knowledge of self-publishing. The EFA booklet is available as an e-book here, and I’ve been told a print version is coming.
New blog posts
These new posts are on my blog for authors, editors, and author-publishers:
I’ve written discussion questions for Somewhere and Nowhere. If your book club reads memoir or outdoor adventure, I’d love to join you for an informal chat about the book. Discussion questions and other information are posted here: http://www.twobluebooks.com/book-clubs/
The Modernist Breadcrumbs podcast is a series of podcasts about bread. I was interviewed for it, so there are clips of me talking (!) within some of the episodes (although I have not yet figured out which ones). You can hear the episodes here: http://heritageradionetwork.org/tag/bread/
When my first book, Bread Science, came out in 2006, I had a list of ideas on marketing from a guidebook I had read about self-publishing. I made a sell sheet, sent it to bookstores, and got no response. I tried to schedule readings at my local bookstores, also without much luck. But somehow the book started selling, and has sold steadily ever since. I attributed this to luck (meeting Peter Reinhart) and timing (artisan bakeries and home baking were about to blossom) and the fact that there is no other convenient place to get the information I included.
When my second book, Somewhere and Nowhere, came out last year, I did not expect it to sell like Bread Science. I had a revised list of ideas to try: scheduling events not in bookstores but in outdoor supply stores, maybe contact the local radio station. It was hard to follow through, and so I pushed the work aside.
A conversation last weekend led me to realize some things.
Not authentic: this is not my kind of biking!
My involvement in communities that relate to bread aids sales of Bread Science. I teach bread classes, attend science events with my bread table, and network with bakers. I participated in the (now defunct) #breadchat on Twitter. These methods of marketing came easily because they were authentic—I would have participated with or without a book to sell.
In contrast, I’m not part of communities that include target readers of a book about self-discovery on a cross-country bicycle trip. I’ve always preferred to ride solo, not in a pack. I’m not part of a travel company community; my riding partner and I actually rejected the idea of going with a company and were thankful we had. And self-improvement has always been something I work on alone or by talking with a friend (or, at times, a therapist).
I’ve refocused my marketing plan for Somewhere and Nowhere with these two ideas:
I can authentically become part of communities or groups that contain potential readers.
It’s okay if the book gains readers slowly.
Authentic: this is more like it!
This makes me feel a lot better because I’m more comfortable when I am being authentic. It removes the pressure of trying to sell the book, and makes me feel braver about approaching others with it. It also ties in with an idea I heard recently, that for self-publishers, building an author brand is the route to success, and sales build over time. I don’t need immediate promotion of one title, with a six-month cutoff for success, as is common in the traditional publishing industry.
My first idea is to write a list of discussion questions for the book and then approach the local library’s outdoor book club. I could attend the book club if they decide to read my book, and interact with the readers. I’m also going to follow up on my idea to approach bloggers who review books or discuss travel or bicycling. This was on my original marketing idea list, but I feel more comfortable about it now.
Note: A version of this post was originally posted in February 2017.
In early 2017, I attended the AWP (American Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Washington, DC. It was my first time at AWP, which was an overwhelming affair: six sessions each day with up to 35 choices, a monstrous book fair, evening meet-ups, and events throughout the city.
Day One: Sessions
Inside the mammoth DC convention center
The first day, I attended all six sessions, each of which included a panel of four or five experts. The morning sessions were filled with practical information about how to land an agent, what it’s like to have a book deal, what residencies are looking for in a writer, and how to give and receive feedback effectively. The afternoon sessions were less helpful: the panelists read essays they’d written or excerpts from their books, or told personal stories. This was less interesting to me, or maybe I was just exhausted from the day’s nonstop activity.
While I gathered lots of information, I didn’t speak to a single person all day. The conference format, with only 15 minutes between sessions, made it hard. After each session, people would line up to speak to the panelists, who often included published authors, agents, editors at presses, and bookstore owners. While I would have welcomed an interaction, I didn’t have anything to pitch or a clear goal, so I didn’t join these lines.
Day Two: Book Fair
The view from my table in the book fair’s cafe area
The next morning, on my commute into the city, I met a writer on the metro who’d spent all of her conference time so far navigating the book fair, pitching her book to presses she had selected ahead of time. This surprised me; I’d thought the presses were only there to sell books. I resolved to spend more time in the book fair that day.
At first, it was hard: my natural aversion to talking to people, particularly people trying to sell me something, kicked in. Thankfully, I’d been tasked with bringing home pencils for my family, so I forced myself to talk to anyone who had pencils at the table. This led to some pleasant and interesting conversations.
I gradually came to understand the types of vendors in the book fair:
Small presses selling books and, apparently, looking for authors
Literary magazines selling subscriptions and looking for submissions
MFA programs, which include low-residency options
Residency programs, which include competitive programs that are sometimes free to attend, and programs that anyone can attend for a fee
Other: Groups for writers, groups of editors looking for writers, a service to help writers submit to literary magazines, and more
Emma and Ann onstage with a moderator
Note that these vendors were not organized into sections, and there were hundreds of them. I walked up and down each aisle looking at all of them, but had I had a goal, targeting specific vendors ahead of time would have made sense.
I also attended “a conversation with Emma Straub and Ann Patchett,” which was delightful. Both women are successful writers, and they talked about their lives, how they became writers, and which 2017 books they are looking forward to.
The conference seemed very academic: some sessions had super-specific titles or focused on teaching writing, there was a definite trend toward writers attending formal programs, and the assumption seemed to be that we writers were all writing literary works. I had hoped to meet a romance novel publisher but didn’t see a single mention of romance!
I also noticed a dearth of information about self-publishing. This struck me because I’d heard panelists (including successfully published authors) talk about the disappointments of book deals, the number of good books that don’t get published, the luck involved in successfully publishing, and the inability to live off of one’s writing royalties, even as a successful author. On the third day, I encountered outright hostility toward self-publishers in one panel, where a bookstore owner who won’t work with self-publishers made the assumption that people self-publish only because they’ve failed to publish traditionally. I was happy to find some booths in the book fair, such as the Authors Guild, that supported self-publishing.
Attending the conference helped me see its possibilities, and I hope to go again. To get the most out of it, I will plan ahead: I’ll identify goals of attending and who I’d like to talk to. I might wait until I have a manuscript to pitch to presses, and then research the presses that are attending to find the ones that interest me. The book fair would be an invaluable resource if I were interested in attending a writing program or residency.
Recognizing how overwhelming the conference is, I’ll choose which sessions and speakers interest me (subject to change), but not try to attend every session, using the breaks to peruse the book fair. I’ll make sure I plan time to network at vendor booths. I’ll also try to find somewhere to stay that doesn’t include a long, exhausting commute. This might help me attend some of the after-hours activities.
And I will continue to hope that the AWP organizers will recognize the validity of self-publishing and begin providing resources to authors to help them self-publish effectively.
What is distribution? For a self-publisher (or as they are now sometimes called, author-publisher), distribution can be the most confusing part of publishing. This is because the term has various meanings. In general, it refers to the means by which books go from the publisher to the retailer (e.g., a bookstore), who then sells them to readers.
Before self-publishing became so popular, the distribution system worked a certain way and was intertwined with publishing houses. Some publishing houses had their own distributors and some used outside distributors. Among these traditional distribution methods, some are now technically available to author-publishers, but a large part of the system is filled by publishing houses, which makes these methods in practice fairly unaccessible to author-publishers. There are new methods of reaching retailers that also fall under distribution and are accessible to author-publishers. There are also publishing services that include some form of distribution in their service packages, which further complicates the picture. The addition of e-books and e-book distribution makes the picture even more confusing.
As an author-publisher, I’ve sold print books directly to readers (i.e., no distributor) via my website and the Amazon Marketplace, and used a few e-book distribution methods. I’ve read about other methods available to author-publishers. I have no first-hand knowledge of the more traditional distribution methods but learned about them in a recent webinar presented by Angela Bole of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).
I’ve attempted to list the methods here. If you know of something I’ve left out, please share it in the comments.
Print Book Distribution
There are now three methods of printing books: offset printing, digital printing, and print-on-demand (POD). Offset printing is the long-standing method and makes sense for large print runs (~1000 books or more). Digital enables small print runs at reasonable prices. POD uses digital technology to print books one at a time, as they are ordered; note that with POD, books usually go directly from the printer to the reader. The diagram below includes the distribution methods that are most relevant to new author-publishers, with additional methods described in the text only.
Distribution without a distributor (Author 3 in the diagram above): The author-publisher pays to print a bunch of books, either using offset or digital printing. She sells them from her website and mails books when orders come in. She might visit local or relevant bookshops and ask them to carry the book, offering a wholesale discount. If the book sells well, the bookseller might want to order more, but because there is no distributor, the book is not “in the system” to easily reorder; the author might have to check back to keep the bookstore ordering. The author can sell on Amazon (a retailer, not a distributor) using the Amazon Marketplace; again this involves the author mailing the books when orders arrive. With this method, the author keeps most or all of the profit.
Distribution with POD companies (Author 2 in the diagram): The author-publisher lists the book with one or more POD companies; the author sets a wholesale discount as if the POD company is a bookstore. When someone (a reader via an online retailer or a physical retail store) orders a book, the company prints and ships it; they take their cut, but there is no fee for acting as a distributor. The two biggest companies are CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and there are many articles comparing the two. As of 2017, best practice (because of the fees charged) was to use CreateSpace to list the book online at Amazon, and to use IngramSpark to list the book everywhere else.
Distribution with POD companies via a publishing service (Author 1 in the diagram): The publishing service takes care of getting the manuscript to the POD companies; usually an author would only use this route if he’s also buying additional services, such as design and editing. Start by searching “full-service publishing providers” online; read not only directories but also articles that rate and review the companies. There are good and bad publishing services out there; be sure to read reviews before signing up to work with one.
Traditional, passive distribution: The publisher uses a distributor (such as Ingram, the biggest, or Baker and Taylor) to handle billing and shipping, but there is no sales team pitching the book to retailers. The distributor simply lists the book as available and stores copies. The agreement should be nonexclusive—the publisher can sell the book elsewhere. There is an application process; the author-publisher must have significant sales and might be required to offer a certain discount, accept returns, pay a fee, and more. This only makes sense for books that are selling thousands of copies. The company is sometimes called a wholesaler rather than a distributor.
Traditional, passive distribution with Amazon (for sale on Amazon only): Amazon offers several distribution services that authors can pay to use, that do not seem to have much of an application process. However, the author pays fees, including storage fees with some services, so if the book does not sell, the process could be costly. Here is a summary of Amazon’s services: (1) With Amazon Advantage, Amazon is the seller, orders books when needed, and sets the price. They will drop your book if it does not sell. (2) With Fulfillment by Amazon, you are the seller but Amazon stores and ships books, which are eligible for Amazon customer services. (3) With the Amazon Marketplace, you are the seller and also ship the books as they sell. The professional account has a monthly fee, while the individual account has a fee per item sold. (This third service does not really count as distribution.)
Traditional, active distribution: The publisher has an exclusive agreement with a distributor, who is the only one who can sell the book to retailers. The distributor handles billing and shipping and also has a sales team that actively tries to sell the book. Many distributors will not work with author-publishers, although this is changing, but there must be several books and significant sales, as well as other qualities like the publisher’s perceived longevity and prominence in the marketplace.
Note that with a traditional distributor, the author and/or publisher only receives a small fraction of the sales price. Author-publishers should be clear about which type of distribution they are receiving—they often think there will be active selling when really they are working with a passive distributor. There is a list of distributors at the IBPA website, here: http://www.ibpa-online.org/page/distributors (these distributors have not been vetted).
Some of the traditional distribution companies mentioned above also handle e-books; if you work with one of those companies, make sure you understand the agreement and what is included (i.e., do you retain the e-book rights?).
The main decision of publishing an e-book is whether to work directly with each retailer (and keep more of the profit) or to use a distributor (and have less work, plus the ability to reach additional markets) or to use a mix of both. If you choose to work directly with retailers, remember that any change to your e-book will need to be made at each retailer; you might start with one and see how it goes before uploading to the rest. The methods listed below are the most common for an author-publisher.
Distribution without a distributor (Author 3 in the diagram below): The author creates e-book files and sells them directly to buyers. Note one complication with this situation: As the seller, the author could email the e-book to the buyer, but the files are often large and buyers expect to download an e-book as soon as they buy it. Creating a system where the buyer is taken to a webpage to download the e-book requires some technical know-how; there are also security issues to consider. Thus, it is easier to use an intermediary to deliver the book. These intermediaries are called “digital distributors” and they take a cut of the profit, but I still consider using them as “selling direct to buyers” and the cut is smaller than that taken elsewhere. I use Gumroad.
Distribution via single-channel distributors: Single-channel distributors enable an author to sell his book at one online retailer; for example, Kindle Direct Publishing enables e-book sales on Amazon. These distributors are “self-serve” and straightforward to use; simply follow the instructions for formatting and converting the document to an e-book and upload, and the e-book will appear for sale at the retailer’s site. Authors can access these distributors themselves (Authors 2 and 3 in the diagram below) or with a distribution service (Authors 1 and 2 in the diagram).
Distribution via a distribution service (Authors 1 and 2 in the diagram): A distribution service publishes an author’s e-book at whichever retailers she chooses, and takes a cut of the sales. Currently the most popular distribution services are Smashwords and Draft2Digital. There are many reviews comparing them, so I won’t get into that here. Distribution services usually have their own storefront, meaning that they’ll sell your e-book to readers and take a cut but there won’t be an additional cut taken by another retailer, like Amazon; however, sales from these storefronts are not typically large.
Another decision is whether to publish exclusively with Amazon KDP Select (which offers promotional advantages) or with as many retailers as possible. If your target readers are using Kindle Unlimited, publishing exclusively with Amazon makes sense. To find out, look at the top books in your category on Amazon and see if these books are available in Kindle Unlimited.
Note: Bookbaby is sometimes listed as a distributor. Bookbaby’s business model is different: authors pay up front for services, then keep all the money from sales. Bookbaby might more accurately be described as a publishing service provider.
What’s going on with these e-book authors?
Author 1 is taking the simple route: using a distribution service to handle all e-book sales. The service will convert the manuscript to an e-book and upload it at all the retailers’ websites. Either the service will cost money to use, or the service will take a cut of sales. The retailer (e.g., Amazon) will also take a cut.
Author 2 is uploading the book directly to Amazon, the biggest e-book retailer. This way, only Amazon will take a cut of sales of e-books sold on Amazon. To reach the other numerous e-book retailers, the author uses a distribution service.
Author 3 is selling e-books directly from her website. She is also selling them at Amazon and other select online retailers; unless she is so famous that people will seek out her e-book on her website, using other retailers is smart because many more readers will find the book. Author 3 might try to sell with all the other retailers, but there are many, and some do not accept e-books from author-publishers; she might use a distribution service to reach only those other retailers (this is not show on the diagram).
I hope this post clears up any confusion about book distribution. Of course, the situation is constantly changing, with new services appearing and old institutions gradually accepting the legitimacy of self-publishing. New paths might open for author-publishers any day!
This week, I edited a paper that had a word limit of 8000. When I received it, the paper had 8905 words. The client asked me to cut as much as possible and to suggest sections that might be reduced. I was determined to return the paper with less than 8000 words—making writing more concise is one of my favorite things to do!
There were many ways I reduced the word count to 7964. When I’d finished, not only was the word count below the limit, but also the paper was much easier to read. While we hope papers are published for their academic merit, being readable can’t hurt.
Here are some of the ways I reduced the word count. To protect the author’s confidentiality, I’ll invent a paper topic: Let’s pretend the paper studied the effect of growing multiple varieties of pumpkin on farm profits in the fall season.
Replace groups of words with a better word
“growing large amounts of pumpkins” → “growing many pumpkins”
“in the farm environment” → “in farming” or “on the farm”
“the pumpkins appearing in the photos” → “the pumpkins pictured”
Remove lengthy introductions
“As can be illustrated with the color of pumpkins, there are many options” → “As seen with the color of pumpkins, there are many options” or possibly “Consider the color of pumpkins: there are many options”
Rearrange “of” phrases if possible
“the color of pumpkins” → “pumpkin color”
“the use of hoses” → “hose use”
Remove “in order” from “in order to”
Remove “furthermore,” “additionally,” “moreover,” and other such words; one or two might aid readability, but they are often overused—not every item in a paragraph needs such an introduction
Replace long noun-filled phrases with a verb
“pumpkins are the possessors of nutrients” → “pumpkins possess nutrients”
“pumpkin color has an impact on sales” → “pumpkin color impacts sales”
“to obtain a better understanding of the colors” → “to better understand the colors”
Remove passive voice, which often adds words
“Increased pumpkin growth has been seen by farmers” → “Farmers have seen increased pumpkin growth”
“Similar results were found by Smith et al.” → “Smith et al. found similar results”
“Farming has come to be regarded as” → “Many now regard farming as”
Remove use of “there”
“There has been increased use of drip irrigation” → “Use of drip irrigation has increased” or “Drip irrigating has become more common”
Remove unnecessary references to studies: it’s not necessary to preface every intention or result with a reference to the current study or other studies; the reader will assume results are yours or others’, depending on the location in the paper (i.e., a section about the current study versus a section about the literature)
“It was found that orange pumpkins are most popular” → “Orange pumpkins are most popular”
“Growing a variety of vegetables has been found to significantly help farm profits, as shown in Table 1” → “Growing a variety of vegetables significantly helps farm profits (see Table 1)”
Own your results: if you found a result, you can state that
“The current study aims to further expand our knowledge of” → “This study expands our knowledge of”
But, don’t repeat the importance of your results ad nauseam
“Another important result is the benefit of displaying large pumpkins on the farm” → “Another result is the benefit of displaying large pumpkins on the farm” or better, “Displaying large pumpkins benefits the farm”
“It significantly helps farm profits” might become “It helps farm profits” if nearby data shows that the difference is significant and if the significance is discussed elsewhere
Sentences such as “our important results will be of great benefit to the farming industry” can often be removed—the data will illustrate this point to the reader, and trying to draw additional attention to it comes across as phony
Don’t describe what the reader can see for himself: if you list items, you don’t need to describe the number of items to the reader
“A handful of studies have looked at pumpkin color (Jones, 2013; Smith, 2017)” → “Studies have looked at pumpkin color (Jones, 2013; Smith, 2017)”
“Recent studies have demonstrated that orange pumpkins are more popular. This effect was seen at farmers markets but not in grocery stores.” → “Recent studies have demonstrated that orange pumpkins are more popular at farmers markets but not in grocery stores.”
“We examined several factors. These include color, size, and shape” → ““We examined several factors, including color, size, and shape” or better, “We examined several factors: color, size, and shape”
Avoid repeating a lengthy phrase throughout the paper, simply because it was needed in the introduction and conclusions. For example, if the study examined the effect of growing other varieties of decorative winter vegetable in addition to pumpkins, such as gourds, squashes, and corn stalks, you don’t have to list these other varieties, such as gourds, squashes, and corn stalks, every time you mention them. You can simply write “other varieties of decorative winter vegetable” or even “other varieties” after the first one or two mentions of the list.
Avoid repeating the obvious. If your study looks at growing pumpkins on farms, you will let the reader know that. But you don’t have to repeat “growing pumpkins on farms” throughout the paper. Once the reader knows that you studied growing pumpkins on farms, you can reduce the phrase to “growing pumpkins.”
Authors can reduce word count using these tips, or hire an editor to do it. Ask specifically for the editor to make the writing more concise. While I prefer this type of writing, I also respect the author’s voice and might not have made as many cuts without the directive to shorten the paper.
At one of my jobs, they told me to Use More Hashtags! I know this might come naturally to some folks, but I began using social media later in life and decided to research a bit. I read a lot of articles that repeated each other, but the information organized in my head in a different way. Here’s how I see hashtags.
Hashtags in General
The general advice can be summed up as follows:
Keep hashtags short, memorable, unique, relevant, and specific
Don’t overdo hashtag use
Use hashtags to add to a conversations (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay just because it is National Coffee Day if you’re not writing something relevant to #NationalCoffeeDay)
Don’t use spam hashtags (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay for a random photo of your cat, just to get viewers to see your post on National Coffee Day)
I found this advice for using hashtags on specific platforms:
Twitter: Hashtags are used to categorize posts or to focus a conversation; one or two per post is best
Facebook: Hashtags do not boost engagement and might even hurt it; use one or two at most, but maybe none
Instagram: Hashtags are used to describe the photo and to build community, and should be unique and detailed; some say to use eleven or more, while others say five or six maximizes engagement
Branded versus Unbranded
An area of confusion among my coworkers was what kind of hashtags to use. Should the hashtags contain our company name (i.e., branded), to stay unique to our events? Or should they be general hashtags (i.e., unbranded) that others might already use, resulting in more people finding us? The confusion resulted from confusion about the goals of using hashtags.
Branded hashtags are used for the following:
Group together viewer-generated content, posts about a campaign, or contest entries
Raise awareness of a campaign
Organize posts relevant to a certain topic
Drive participation and engagement within your community (for a local business, this would be the local community)
Unbranded hashtags have the following characteristics:
You can use them to join a trend
You can get people to notice you, thus increasing participation and engagement from newcomers to your community
They are usually global but can be local (e.g., #firstworldproblems versus #carrboroproblems)
You should use hashtags that fit your brand
You should make sure you understand the hashtag before using it (e.g., #instabuns is about bunnies, not bread buns)
You should use the hashtag only to add to the ongoing conversation, to avoid looking like a spammer
A key point to me was the global versus local nature of unbranded and branded hashtags, respectively. It might benefit a nationwide company to use an unbranded hashtag and have people all over the world discover the company. As a small business without online sales, we would do better to engage with people living nearby who might come into our store.
So, we would create our own, clever, branded hashtags to have an official hashtag for each event; use them on our posts; and include them on event banners and materials to encourage others to use them. On Instagram, where there is enough space, we could use both the official branded hashtag and other unbranded hashtags; it wouldn’t hurt to have engagement from people who might never visit our store. (As a final note, any engagement on Facebook at the moment helps a post gain traction, but since hashtag use doesn’t help on Facebook, and might even hurt engagement rates, it’s a moot point. As far as I know, engagement on other platforms does not increase a post’s visibility.)
I’m not an early adopter. This week I finally “claimed” my books on Goodreads. Now that I’ve done it, I actually feel excited about the platform, unlike most social media platforms. It’s centered on books! Anyway, I set up my profile, turned on “Ask the Author,” and imported my blog. Here I am: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1439262.Emily_Buehler
I decided to start by reviewing a book I loved, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. I can’t remember how I ended up at Emily’s author reading back in 2013, or what her connection is to North Carolina (where the action starts), but I was so glad to have discovered the book. I was glad to support it on Goodreads, too, especially when I saw a few of the scathing, one-star reviews (which, IMHO, reflect more on the reviewer than the book). It was a good lesson for me, that there are always going to be readers who hate your book, and that I should keep working on developing the thick skin I’m going to need.
I don’t think I would slam another author’s book, no matter how much I hated it. I guess negative reviews are important, but for now at least, I’m going to review books I liked. I’m going to try to write a few each week, and to post them at Amazon as well. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, knowing how important online reviews are to authors.
In other news, my blog post about the class I took last July is now up on the Folk School blog: “Nothing Is As Expected in Printmaking Paradise.” The post deals with the unpredictable nature of print-making (and life!) and features a print I made of Scruffy.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) published my overview of how to self-publish a book with as little outside help as possible: DIY Self-Publishing: An Overview. You can buy it on Lulu.com as a print or e-book. There’s also a free version (here) that contains some of the information and is a good starting point. If you think you want to move ahead with self-publishing, the EFA version is better written and more detailed.
The Modernist Breadcrumbs podcast has begun. I still don’t have a date for my interview, but the bread-related podcasts are all listed here, with the newer ones on top: http://heritageradionetwork.org/tag/bread/
Finally, I’ve been writing blog posts about writing, editing, and self-publishing. Since this blog is dedicated to personal news, I’m posting them on my editorial business website, here: http://www.emilyeditorial.com/blog/.
Yesterday I attended a webinar about the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) checklist of book standards. IBPA is hoping to change the publishing industry so that all books are judged by their quality, not by who published them. Providing the checklist to self-publishers enables them to produce professional-looking books that won’t instantly be labeled as self-published and therefore inferior. And, promoting the standards on the checklist as the standards to use to judge if a book is professionally published will result in librarians, reviewers, and bookstore buyers ignoring the type of publishing model used in favor of the quality of the book.
Brooke Warner, the publisher of She Writes Press and a board member of IBPA, presented the webinar, which was sponsored by the Authors Guild. Since joining the Authors Guild, I’ve found the organization to be a great advocate for authors, which made me trust Brooke’s opinion on book publishing standards. (I’m new to IBPA, but so far they also seem like great advocates.)
Brooke explained that the publishing industry is an old one, with entrenched standards. If an author wants a book to succeed, the book’s chances increase if it fits in. This might be hard to take for some authors, who want to rebel against standards or produce a unique-looking book. However, in this industry, the best way to succeed is to adhere to standards.
While the content of a book will always determine how it is received, the book’s appearance can get it in the door. When I first self-published, I looked at other books to determine what I should do. This worked for the most part, but there were definitely items I missed. (I’m relieved at how much I did right! But I now squirm to see the mistakes I made.) The checklist will help self-published authors avoid mistakes that will flag their books as unprofessional.
For example, the following items are ones you might not realize are important:
There is a “half title page” before the title page
The font on the title page matches the font on the cover
There is no “By” before the author’s name
The book is edited following the Chicago Manual of Style, the standard in book publishing
Margins should be big enough that the reader’s thumbs won’t block the text
The front cover should look good as a thumbnail, which is how it will appear on Amazon and other websites
The front cover design should fit in with other books in the genre
The back cover should include the BISAC subject heading (which you find at BISG.com)
Blurbs on the back cover should not be from Amazon reviews-the industry in general does not love Amazon
Last month, UNC–Chapel Hill hosted Marc Lavine, a senior editor at Science magazine, to talk on “Communicating Science, Communicating in Science: An Insider’s View.” Most of the audience seemed to be students who might someday seek to publish a paper in Science, and I suspected that most of the talk would be tips for authors. I hoped the topic of editing would come up.
Tips for authors
Lavine talked about what has changed in science journals since 2001, when he began at Science, including all the new journals available to scientists, the ability to include supplementary materials with papers, altmetrics, open access, and predatory journals. In 2000, Science rejected 70% of the papers submitted after an initial screening; 20% more were rejected after an in-depth review. And the numbers have only gotten worse. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Science still publishes the best science.
Wilson Library on the UNC–Chapel Hill campus
One problem that earns a paper an immediate rejection is the topic or length of the paper not meeting requirements. Many papers fall into a gray area. What determines the fate of these papers?
Missing data or an unclear point might cause the paper to be rejected. An author immersed in research might forget to include initial steps in the paper, or an author might rush to finish the paper instead of allowing a deeper writing process to occur. Lavine also said, “The difference may be the quality of the writing.” The Science editors can’t send all the gray-area papers out for review. If the writing is of poor quality, they might decide not to bother with the paper. In addition, a well-written cover letter can only help. Lavine summed up the secret to being published in Science as (1) doing good science and (2) writing it up well.
Lavine shared the steps that a paper goes through on its way to publication:
The author submits the paper.
An editor takes on the paper.
A board of reviewers performs a quick assessment and suggests referees.
The Science team discusses the paper and decides whether it passes.
The editor finds two or more referees for the paper.
The referees perform a cross review—they comment on the paper and also on each other’s comments.
The Science team discusses the paper further and decides whether it passes.
The paper enters the cycle of revision and re-review.
Science accepts the paper.
He added that it’s best to write the paper well the first time, to avoid a cycle of rewrites. The paper should include the “big picture” behind the research, figures should be in a logical order, data should support claims made, results should be presented honestly (not cherry-picked or hidden), and all possible relevant research techniques should be included.
My own article in Science from waaaaay back when
People read Science not for in-depth studies in their own discipline, but to gather ideas from other disciplines. Articles published in Science should have a good story that encourages readers to keep reading. (That said, Lavine also pointed out that it’s better to bore your readers than to lose them to confusion.) Metaphors that any reader can understand are helpful to illustrate scientific concepts. Readers should understand why the work is important now, without the author resorting to hype. The paper should also explain why the results are outside the norm; control data and baselines should be given.
Authors should not submit every paper they write to Science. When considering it, authors should ask themselves, Will the research have a big impact? Will it interest researchers outside its field? Does it overturn any established ideas? Is it my best work?
Write your abstract last, and clarify the importance of your work, without trying to hype it.
Have a colleague, particularly someone outside your field, provide feedback on the paper.
While you might hope to advance your career by publishing in Science, the editors who are assessing your work do not consider this a reason to publish you, so don’t push this point in your letter to them.
Referee comments are intended to benefit the author, not attack.
Thoughts for Editors
While Lavine mentioned the quality of writing several times, I did not hear him advise students on how to achieve this quality. I had prepared a few possible questions on the topic of editing—maybe, “What do you think of an author working with an editor to improve the writing?” or “Do you have an opinion on working with an academic editing company versus an author working directly with a freelance editor?”
Preparing questions led me to think how I’d respond if asked. Many freelance editors believe that editing companies pay poorly and wish that authors would work directly with editors. But some journals recommend these companies to authors whose papers need help. I tried to see the situation from the author and journal perspective: why do journals recommend those companies and not us freelancers?
I would argue that direct contact between the author and editor can foster a better result, since a back-and-forth dialogue can best resolve queries; that the low rates paid by companies encourage editors to work as quickly as possible, producing a lower quality edit; and that, as I have witnessed, the second edit provided by a company’s managing editor can result in inadvertent changes in meaning.
From the author and journal perspective, however, the companies use vetted editors and have quality control; they have standard prices and sometimes offer guarantees of satisfaction or a refund; they work on standard deadlines; and they may seem less financially risky, being well-known companies.
This led me to think that, to start recommending freelance editors to authors, journals need (1) a database of freelance editors and (2) vetting for those editors, such as a certification program. It would be nice if the certification program were relatively accessible, regarding cost and who is allowed to apply for it. I’d also appreciate (3) a system that holds payment and transfers it when the product is delivered. If these items existed, would journals start recommending freelance editors instead of the large editing companies?
During the Q&A, someone asked if he should hire an editor: would it help his paper be accepted by making his writing better, or would the journal frown upon it because he did not create the entire paper himself?
Lavine responded that he’d be concerned about an editor changing the author’s voice. The problem with editing services, he said, is that while they might be experts in journal submission, they are not teaching authors how to write. Using a service “games the system,” giving the author an advantage, but he encouraged the student to have a colleague edit the paper instead, which, he said, would gain more for the student. He did concede that he does not know if papers submitted to Science have been edited, so he is not sure if editing helps papers be accepted.
My impression was that editors who work directly with authors had not even crossed his mind, and that the authors in the room might benefit from some encouragement toward not only editing but editing directly with a freelance editor.
I also had not considered the role of academic paper editors in helping authors become better writers, although I’d always considered this part of fiction editing. When I was a TA, I spent hours grading papers because I could not resist writing comments to the students about every lost point, hoping they would follow up and learn about their mistakes. So it seems a logical next step to aid authors not just by correcting their papers but by making them better writers.
I’m teaching again in October (the class is full), with additional classes in January and June, 2018.
Then Conor O’Donovan interviewed me for the Modernist Breadcrumbs podcast, in anticipation of the arrival, this fall, of Modernist Bread. The series debuts on October 4 (not sure of my interview’s date yet), and you can hear the podcast here: http://heritageradionetwork.org/modernistbreadcrumbs/
I’m currently working on a series of sourdough-relayed bread articles for The Kitchn, also in anticipation of Modernist Bread. Amy Halloran and the Modernist Bread team will be doing posts as well. They’ll be posted in October.
Photo by Alicia Stemper
Writing about bread, and stumbling upon interesting new facts (like the different temperatures that bacteria and yeast thrive at, which can enable the baker to control the sourness of her sourdough), is making me want to delve back into bread research. Another game changer was finding out that through my William and Mary alumni association, I have online access to academic journals–I wouldn’t have to take the bus to UNC, where non-students are now limited to one hour of computer time. I might be able to revive Food Chem Blog!
I’ve never had an interest in a second edition of Bread Science. I thought I had written everything I knew. I’m about to get more copies printed, and I had to open the Indesign file to make a few corrections (my email address and location). It was tempting to start copyediting the whole book–I didn’t even know about the Chicago Manual when I wrote it!–but each page that has changes adds additional cost to the printing. I shouldn’t start editing until I’m going to redo the whole book. And if I’m going to do that, I might think about adding new content. I wonder if there will be a second edition someday!