Not a week goes by when we are not asked why we don’t ship our books via media mail rather than using UPS or Fed Ex ground service. In an economy like this, we should all be looking for ways to reduce the costs of doing business, and the US postal service is so much less expensive than those carriers. But is it really?
In the last week alone, we’ve experienced a few shining examples that show why using a reliable, traceable, faster ground carrier is definitely the right way to ship valuable or important cargo.
We routinely send book samples and sales materials to our team of field reps, including catalogs. Our catalogs are not some low-cost, newsprint numbers either. They are highly designed, four-color beauts printed on high quality glossy paper. They mirror the level of quality of the books that they contain. They’re nice (and expensive) sales materials.
In the spirit of minimizing expenses, we decided to give the USPS a shot by sending out our catalogs through their priority mail service. Big mistake.
So far, we’ve had not one, but two reps report to us that they did indeed receive the box we sent to them. Trouble is, they only received the box itself and it was a rumpled, mangled mess at that. In both cases, not so much as a single spread from the catalog was delivered.
All told, those two shipments alone cost us one hundred thirty catalogs! One hundred thirty shiny, brand new, never before opened catalogs. We won’t offset the cost of those pieces of collateral in sales dollars.
So shipping packages might be risky with the USPS, but what about your standard fare letter? The USPS has that down pat, right?
Our business requires that we deal a fair amount with agreements and amendments and paperwork of all kinds. We receive these documents through various means, but most of the time our clients simply fold the agreement into a standard envelope and mail it the good old-fashioned way. And that’s normally totally fine . . . until it’s not.
We received the piece of mail pictured below inside a second, bigger, official USPS envelope with their apologies for the damage and assurances that they expedited what was left of the document to us as quickly as possible. Gee, thanks. This two-thirds of a signed agreement doesn’t really do us any good, but we’re glad it got here quickly.
Bottom line, if it matters and it needs to get there quickly and safely, spend a little more on the front end with a ground carrier to ensure that it does. Besides the time and money it will save you in the long run, your piece of mind is priceless.
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Every year, publishers, authors, and other book industry folks gather at BookExpo America, or BEA. The largest publishing trade show in North America, BEA will feature 500+ authors, 1,500 exhibitors, hundreds of exciting upcoming titles, and a chance to get in on the latest and greatest in the book world.
This year, BEA will again be held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York but has been reconfigured to a three-day, mid-week event, with the conference and special events held on Tuesday, May 25, 2010, and the show and conference taking place on May 26 and 27. Online registration is now open; check out BEA’s website for tons of information on the event.
If you can’t make it to BEA this year, then you might check the American Booksellers Association’s website to see if there is a regional trade show in your area. Most regional trade shows take place in the fall, so you have plenty of time to make your plans.
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The beginning of the year is an exciting time for everyone—including authors. Along with your other resolutions, it’s important to remember that a new year represents a fabulous opportunity to establish, enhance, or even reinvent your author image. Marketing yourself is huge part of making any writer’s book a success. The Internet—and social media, more specifically—has increasingly become the most important aspect of a publicity campaign. If you have not already ventured onto online reading communities and other sites that can help authors spread their work, there is no better time than now! Here are a few to get you started:
- Red Room: A site dedicated to connecting authors and readers. As a Red Room author, you can create a very professional customized page that allows you to upload published works, reviews, interview transcripts, videos, podcasts, as well as blog entries.
- Goodreads: A book-sharing and reviewing site that allows you to sign up as a published author and get your own page, which will include a short biography and background information, separate pages for your books, a place to add links to reviews and interviews, friends and followers, a comments space, and other common features of a social networking site.
- Shelfari: An interactive bookshelf and community for readers, Shelfari allows to create your own profile with a list of favorite books, which you can then review, rate, and tag. A page is created for each author and book, which can be edited by you (or the public at large).
- Scribd: A document-sharing site—it's been called the "YouTube for documents"—where authors can create their own pages and profiles, and easily share a variety of documents—including book excerpts, reviews, interviews, or other book-related paraphernalia for people to view.
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By the beginning of 2010, you should have heard something about the multipurpose power of Twitter. Tweens can keep tabs on Miley Cyrus; huge corporations can interact with their customers; authors can get visibility with readers. But besides reaching out directly to their target audience of readers, authors can use Twitter to access communities that can be crucial to the success of their book—like booksellers. Generally passionate about their work, booksellers have a large and vocal presence on Twitter, and the Twitter-savvy author would do well to befriend them.
John Kremer has a long list of booksellers on Twitter, and Jennifer Tribe of Highspot Inc. has compiled an amazing directory of book industry people here. In addition to booksellers, Tribe’s list also includes publishers, agents, publicist, author services, and more. As you follow people you’d like to know on Twitter, remember that it’s as useful a listening tool as it is a broadcasting tool: get to know what each specific bookseller uses Twitter for, and join the conversation respectfully, waiting for a while before you start pushing your book on anyone. Once you’ve followed and gotten to know the bookselling community on Twitter, we’re pretty sure you’ll want to stick around: they’re smart, helpful, and a lot of fun.
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Publishing, Avant-Garde continues with topic number two: BLOGS & ONLINE JOURNALS.
Assuming that you read any manner of blog or online journal—including this one—then you are more likely than not familiar with the concept. However, for the less initiated, we’ll turn to the trustworthy Wikipedia for a complete definition:
A blog (a contraction of the term "web log") is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.
Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.
Popular hosts and providers of blogs and online journals include Blogger, WordPress, Typepad, LiveJournal, Movable Type and Blogware. Some are free, some paid, and each offers a different mixture of features, applications, widgets and communities. It’s a matter of preference that determines which provider you use.
The reason I want to spotlight blogs and online journals for writers is their twofold function: a place from which to build a platform as a writer, and a place in which to showcase your work.
As to platform—it has become expected, if not an unwritten rule, that a writer should continuously develop a web presence. This is an extremely important aspect of platform-building, especially as more and more people every year begin to rely upon the Internet as a source of information for all things, including entertainment. Which means books. Which means you.
You can find some great information about the basics of blogging (and specifically author blogging) here:
- Start Blogging Online
- wikiHow: How to Start a Blog, 8 Steps (with video)
- ABA Feature Comparison of Major Blog Providers
- Online Journalism’s Review: Are you using the right blogging tool?
- Petrona: An overlong post about blog providers
- Daily Blog Tips: Copyright Law, 12 Dos and Don’ts
- Lorelle on Blogging: Should Authors Blog?
- Marketing Tools for Authors, Writers, and Entrepreneurs: Why Should Authors Blog?
- suite 101: Blogging is a Marketing Tool for Writers
- Bob Baker’s Full-Time Author Blog
The focus of this article is the ‘showcasing your work’ aspect. This is as equally applicable to established authors as it is to beginners. What it means is that people can visit your blog and get a taste of your writing style, tone, background, genre. Essentially, they can get a feel for you.
I’ve visited author blogs that have posted writing across the gamut: excerpts of published novels, segments from drafts of unpublished ones, research for nonfiction works, character descriptions, story outlines, book trailers, audiobook links, e-books, and more. This is in addition to observations about writing, art, culture, the business of publishing, and posts on everyday life. In essence, blogs act as public journals of the creative process of writing.
A few examples of author blogs:
- The Temp, The Actress and the Writer (Adrienne Kress)
- Neil Gaiman’s Journal
- Laurell K. Hamilton
- Seth’s Blog (Seth Godin)
- Tess Gerritsen’s Blog
- Mad Woman in the Forest (Laurie Halse Anderson)
- A Writer’s Life (Lee Goldberg)
You may be wondering: Does ‘showcasing your work’ on a blog or journal mean that it is considered published?
The general consensus is that for legal purposes, publishing excerpts of your work online is not considered publishing in the traditional sense. While I would not recommend posting the entirety of your unpublished work on your blog (in the event that you do plan on submitting your work to publishers), there are other options for those who are considering a strictly self-publishing route—this includes downloadable or e-book content hosted on your blog. For published authors, it is best to check your publisher’s contract with you before posting to your heart’s content, but small segments to interest potential readers seems to be acceptable pretty much across the spectrum.
Having writing samples posted on your blog in addition to regular ‘blogging’ (the commentary, opinions, links and etc. mentioned above) also allows potential publishers and agents to peruse more examples of your work then you may have sent with a query letter, and lets them know that you are working hard on your platform. In this sense, it is crucial that your blog is active. This does not mean writing a research paper daily. You can segment pieces of your writing and set them to auto-update, or write several posts in advance and then spread them out over the course of a few days or weeks. Once you’ve explored a few approaches, you’ll find a natural rhythm—whether it’s short updates daily or longer pieces once or twice a week. The more you post, the more interesting the posts are, and the more you share, the more followers (and hopefully fans and readers) you will gain. And why say no to any extra chance to refine your writing skills?
In essence, blogs are an invaluable enhancement to your credentials—a portfolio that demonstrates your talents like any other artist, including those in visual and media arts. It’s a resume, a curriculum vitae both artistic and practical. It can be as intimate or business-like as you please. You can share as much or little as you want. The blog is the gift of the contemporary author, so use it to the best of your advantage.