Tuesday, October 02, 2007

If Computers Do Not Compute for You.....

Today, I interview Helen Gallagher, author of the new book, "Release Your Writing." Helen's book is excellent if you want to self or POD publish - or if you're just having trouble as a writer navigating the computer.

Please tell us about yourself.
After a 30 year corporate career, I became a computer consultant in 1996 to get out of the downsize, rightsize, outsize world. My primary business, as a sole proprietor, is helping clients with software and technology challenges, so they can regain productivity, manage their time, and stay on top of tech issues that let them do more in less time. I've been a freelance writer for almost ten years, and assignments fill the gaps when I'm not with clients. I write for consumer and trade pubs, including the dearly departed PAGES, Writer's Digest, and many trades, covering business and technology. I've enjoyed success with travel articles and essays, including one in a nice Lonely Planet Travelers' Tales book. I published my first book, Computer Ease, in 2005 in response to client requests.I've always thought myself lucky that I put myself in a position to do something and it works out. Not that I don't have to struggle, but you know, you do something because it feels right and you receive acceptance and support, and it nurtures you both intellectually and financially. I started by walking around the corner to get business cards printed and never looked back. It's been eleven years and the blend of services I offer keeps me challenged, and having time available to write is a very nice mix.

Tell us about your book, "Release Your Writing, Book Publishing Your Way."
In three parts, Release Your Writing covers publishing options: traditional, self-published, and print-on-demand. Then, I focus on computer techniques, shortcuts and tricks to make writing easier, and take the stress out of interacting with technology--like a trick to avoid the Oops of sending an email before you check it. The third part covers the unending marketing needed to ensure a book succeeds in the marketplace. This includes over 50 pages on promotion, and the important and growing online markets for author visibility.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Shortly after I wrote Computer Ease, I had an idea for Computer Ease for Writers. But listening to the issues presented on the forums at FLX and ASJA I found the depth of issues to be greater than I could address. And writers are very proprietary about their favorite tools, techniques, socks and pens. I wanted a book that would make a writer's job easier, but it lacked focus. In March of this year, I gave a presentation and titled my talk "Release Your Writing." As soon as I entered the room, connected my laptop to the projector, and saw that title on the screen, I knew I had the book's focus. A few weeks later, at the ASJA conference, I noticed the palpable excitement over self-publishing: with packed sessions on the topic, self-publishing firms present, and self-published authors on panels.So, I went up to my hotel room during lunch and bought the domain name http://www.releaseyourwriting.com/.
Everything fell into place after that. I knew I had a solid idea: One book that explains options in publishing, technical aspects of coping with technology, dozens of shortcuts to write better and faster with your computer, and an entire section on book marketing, targeted specifically to those of us who do not have agents, marketers, and publicists steering out books toward an audience.

Why do you think self-publishing is a good option for some writers?
It's a reality in the publishing world that a first-time author has a hard time getting noticed. But lacking an agent and publisher advance doesn't mean you have to remain unpublished. If you own the rights to an out-of-print work, or you're a first time author with a topic and a target audience in mind, it's the perfect vehicle for successful publishing, especially for non-fiction. In the book, I lay out an author's reasons to choose POD and list ten of the firms offering service at different levels of price and quality.

Is there a difference between self-publishing, vanity publishing and POD publishing?
Vanity publishing has pretty much died out. Forty years ago, if a person wanted to publish, the vanity press was happy to take a large fee, and then get books printed. The trail went cold at that point, with a publisher keeping any profits, and an author left holding the books. It's a different, digital world today, self-publishing can be a lucrative enterprise with the author controlling writing, production, and cover design, as well as balancing expenses and profit in the process. Most experts say this is the most lucrative publishing avenue, but you have to know you'll sell a few thousand books to turn a profit. The downside of full self-publishing is ownership of all the decisions, meeting with printers, designers, distributors, finding warehouse space, and paying upfront for a print-run that might last years before recovering the initial costs. Many people don't want to handle all those roles.That's when print-on-demand (POD) starts to look good. An author can control the book's design and layout, but contract with a POD firm for set-up, production and distribution into mainstream outlets. More on that in a minute. Because books are printed to fill demand for orders, the cost may run $400 for an author to become a published author, with no further cash outlay. You then have a book professionally bound, by the same firm used by most traditional publishers, and it never goes out of print. POD authors purchase their own books at a discount, likely 40-50 percent, and keep 100 percent of the selling price. Compared to an average ten percent royalty for a good book deal with a traditional publisher, it is profitable and rewarding. The downsides are big though: no national distribution and no marketing budget. The typical extent of POD distribution is to make the book available online to all major retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, WalMart, etc., and in the important Ingram database for bookstore sales and Baker & Taylor for library orders. Bookstores dislike self-published books because there is no marketing or co-op fee from a publisher, and self-published books are generally not returnable. But as Dan Poynter says, "Bookstores are a lousy place to sell books." That's because they require 40-45 percent of sales. The mainstream publishing world runs the same way it did over 100 years ago, but the internet age offers vastly more outreach for authors. Authors are generally well received, though, when they offer their book to stores, on a consignment basis, and are quite welcome for book signings and in-store events.

If you gave just one piece of advice to authors wanting to self publish, what would it be?
There is nothing stopping you from being a successful author. Write a good book, believe in yourself, and work your way through the sales channels that suits your need. As publishing horizons blur, there is no stigma in being a self-published author. Remember, ASJA has a partnership with iUniverse, which is owned by Barnes & Noble, and ASJA broadened its membership requirements to accept some self-published authors. Just last month, iUniverse merged with AuthorHouse, and Amazon started a self-publishing venture called CreateSpace, that competes with its own subsidiary, BookSurge. Here's a recent quote from Bob Miller, president of Hyperion: "We try to keep a book in print as long as possible, and print-on-demand now makes that easier than ever."

What kinds of books do you read?
Oh, you know, writing books of all kinds. Other reading, usually at night, is primarily non-fiction, essays, the Best American Series every year, biography and memoir.

Tell us about your writing process, where do you write and what time of day is best for you?
I write exclusively on my notebook computer, day and night, but I most enjoy a free morning with a specific task or assignment in mind to get started. I think multi-tasking is one of the toughest intrusions for a writer to deal with, so I do close my email program and turn off the phone to give writing the attention it deserves. There are few professions that tolerate the things we do as writers: Think about dentists, pianists, and lawyers. They are very focused on their task and stay with it until its done. Exercise is a better outlet for our restless minds than the distraction of gadgets. When I must use a spiral notebook, at a lecture or writing while waiting somewhere, I transfer those notes to the computer as soon as I can, so everything is in one place. I might have 48 articles and queries in process, but at least they're all in the computer, in a writing folder, subdivided by categories.

What's next for you?
I've morphed into a publishing adviser in the past year, but it wasn't a deliberate effort. After my first self-published book, Computer Ease, I expanded my speaking gigs beyond my core technology focus to include talks to writers on the publishing process, including blogs and writing for the web. As an outgrowth, many people asked for advice on publishing. So, along with Release Your Writing as a vehicle to help people, I've added publishing adviser to my long list of titles, since I'm helping one or two clients per month get their book structured, and help them make the decision to self-publish and choose a POD firm. I don't have another book in mind at present, so I'll focus on marketing and selling articles to share key points of these books.

Please give us your website and where your book can be found.
Since I'm a business technologist, I integrate everything through my web sites and blogs, like you do, Kerri. The new book lives online at http://www.releaseyourwriting.com/, is available through major online retailers and through the publisher, virtualbookworm.com. My other book and work reside at http://www.cclarity.com/


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