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The Politics of Publishing…

As a publisher, I feel it’s important to remain politically neutral when selecting books for publication. A well-written manuscript on any topic is still a well-written manuscript, regardless of my views on the topic. The essays in Repeat Offenders, by Bill Bonvie, definitely lean far more to the left than I do – the book also contains many clever and funny essays I thought deserved publication. Invisible Society Fables, by Phil Canalin, is a book of “fables” dealing with homelessness, which I feel is an important topic to discuss regardless of one’s political leanings. Finally, Improbable Cause, by Brandon and Sharia Mayfield, is about Brandon’s wrongful arrest after the 2004 Madrid train bombing. It’s a story that reminds us that taking liberties with civil liberties, even in the name of public safety, can have lasting consequences, and it was a story I felt needed to be told.

So why won’t I consider the many manuscripts I’ve received about the last election?

Perhaps it’s just that I’m burned out on politics. Living in New Hampshire, every four years I get the privilege of participating in the first primary for President of the United States. The down side of this is that, at least for the past two primaries, when the Republican and Democrat clown cars rolled into my state a full year before the primary, they were full of clowns. In 2016 there were 31 people on the New Hampshire Republican ballot for president. One percent of the final Republican primary vote went to Write-ins, meaning that write-ins had more votes as a group than 21 of the other candidates. Sadly, the Democrat clown car was just as full.

More likely, it’s that the books are predicable. About a year prior to a presidential election, I start receiving “dystopian election outcome” queries from both sides claiming that, if the “other side” wins the election, the result will be the destruction of the world. After a presidential election, I start receiving the “sour grapes and roses” submissions, which fall into three categories: 1) I told you things would be horrible if you elected them, 2) I told you things would be wonderful if you elected them, and 3) they stole the election. Manuscripts in all of these categories tend to be one-sided with very little supporting evidence and don’t make very good reading. So sadly, I will also be passing on manuscripts in these categories four years from now, because I’m just not the right publisher for one-sided essays light on facts and long on rhetoric.

While I could tell you how I ended up voting in the past few primaries, I think that’s a personal thing. I will tell you that, in the past two Republican primaries, after careful consideration I couldn’t really support any of the choices I was given. I suppose I could write a book about my voting quandary, but I’m just not convinced I would be the right publisher for the manuscript…

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Being Social…

As I stated in my last blog about #Pit2Pub, I’m not a big user of social media. In part it’s because I have a pretty busy life and find social media to be a distraction – anyone I want to know what I’m doing already knows without my posting it. But as the owner of a small business that relies on getting the word out about our products, it surprises most people I’m not more active on Facebook and our blog. The reason is very simple:

I’ve found it doesn’t really help to sell books.

Others have written about why Facebook is not a good place to market books, and I won’t rehash those arguments here. For Divertir Publishing the reason these are not good marketing platforms is much simpler: most people who follow our blog and Facebook page are not consumers of our products – they are not readers. Instead, most people following us are authors hoping to get published. Thus, I’ve always believed that posting on these forums hasn’t really been helping our business, and thus it has not been a priority.

Recent emails from from both a current and prospective author has me rethinking this attitude. The email from our author simply stated that he missed our blog and found the inside information on how publishing works to be useful. The prospective author asked if we were still in business, given that we have not started our online magazine (mostly due to lack of submission) and that I hadn’t blogged recently. Interestingly, since my last blog post, we have published two books and have another coming out this week. However, the prospective author didn’t see the new books that have been published (in part because we don’t list the publication date on our email site). All he saw was that there were no recent blog posts.

What this lesson has taught me is that being social is very import – not because it helps us sell books, but because it reminds people we are still actively publishing manuscript.

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Lesbian Vampires and the NSA…

For NaNoWriMo in 2014, I wanted to write a spoof on young adult paranormal romance books with hunky-blue-eyed-servants-of-the-underworld and angsty teenage girls that fall in love with them. The result was Misunderstood. My favorite line, written at 3 a.m. while trying to make my word count for the day, was delivered by one of the female vampires after a vampire hunter hits on her: “I prefer my men dead, but thank you for the compliment.”

A recent blog by author A.J. O’Connell about research she’s doing for her latest book made me think of something funny with regards to my manuscript. It occurred to me when I started writing I knew very little about vampires. Do the myths really say they can only go out at night? What special powers might a vampire have? I immediately turned to Google to get my questions answered. While my intention was to keep all the romances heterosexual, it was obvious where the book had to go after I wrote a scene where the older female vampire consoles a newly turned vampire after the new vampire’s family rejects her for revealing what she had become. Thus, I searched for “lesbian vampires.”

I hope the NSA had a lot of fun with that one.

I know authors who feel that, when writing fiction, research is not necessary. The attitude is, because fiction involves made up characters, places, and events, one can take liberties with facts. This often results in manuscripts that fall short as readers start noticing things that are not accurate. Was the murder weapon or getaway car in your book available to your characters at the time the story was supposed to have occurred. Would one really drive northeast to go from Gary, Indiana, to Missouri City? Can a character really be shot in the abdomen ten times and continue fighting? Can you really kill an assailant, or your spouse, with a lettuce knife? Great fiction draws a reader in and makes them feel like part of the story. You’ll never accomplish that if a reader is questioning if your story is believable.

Research also tells us what has already been written and provides backstory a writer might not come up with on their own. The story Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and published in 1871, was about a lesbian vampire. Knowing this allowed me to make some changes to my own manuscript, such as altering the appearance of one of the female vampires to suggest the woman might be Carmilla. While done subtly, fan of the genre should pick up on it. I hope it makes the manuscript a more interesting read.

One more amusing comment about the NSA. I was recently checking the spelling of some words in Sharia and Brandon Mayfield’s Improbable Cause, which we are releasing in the spring. One word I had to look up was Al Qaida. So now my NSA browsing history includes “lesbian vampires” and “Al Qaida.” I wonder what the NSA computers set up to mine our data will do with that combination…

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Hacking my Keurig 2.0…

For Christmas last year we purchased a Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. People who know me will tell you I drink a lot of coffee (usually with cognac in it when I’m reading queries). I took it out of the box, put in my favorite ‘Donut Shop Coffee’ k-cup, and was floored when I saw the “Oops, this package wasn’t designed for this brewer” message. The cup worked fine in my previous Keurig brewer.

Because almost no one reads the instructions on a coffee machine, I called Keurig. They informed me that you now had to purchase your coffee from them because they had included a new ‘technology’ to better brew coffee. Read this to mean they included DCM (Digital Coffee Management) to prevent competitor’s k-cups from working in the machine unless the competitors paid them a large licensing fee for the ‘technology.’ I told the woman from Keurig I would stop drinking coffee before I was forced to buy overpriced k-cups from them and that I was returning the machine. I then hung up and did what I suspect most people who purchased the new machine did.

I Googled “Keurig 2.0 hack”…

The answer is simple. Cut the ring off an “approved” k-cup and tape it to the “unapproved” cup. This is what I’ve done with my reusable EZ-Cup and SoloFill cups – I prefer buying bags of coffee, both because of the price and because the reusable cups are more environmentally friendly. The Roger’s Family Company website has a nice collection of videos for all the hacks available. They also make a device called the “Freedom Clip” that will disable the new optical scanner technology in the Keurig 2.0. I’ve already ordered my Freedom Clip and will let everyone know how it works.

So what does the price of coffee have to do with the publishing business, other than the fact I rely on my cup of coffee to read queries? It has to do with setting the price for your products. In my blog on Profit and Loss statements, I talk about doing market research to determine the optimal list price for your book. Each k-cup from Keurig costs 3 times the amount of buying bagged coffee and the filters for my reusable EZ-Cup and almost twice the cost of k-cups from most of their competitors; this is the main reason I don’t buy coffee from Keurig. If you price your book too high for the market people will not purchase your book. Instead, people will go someplace else for their reading entertainment, or they will find a way to hack the DRM on your eBook. They may even hack their coffee machines just to make a point…

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Publishing Costs…

In my last blog I wrote about creating a profit and loss statement for a book. Let’s assume we are producing a children’s book in a 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch format with a black and white interior. The book is 150 pages after layout and has 15 illustrations in the interior. Finally, based on a survey of similar books, we conclude the price the book can be sold for is $8.95.

The above book can be printed for $3.15 using print-on-demand (POD). Dividing the printing cost by 0.60 gives $5.25 as the minimum price you need to charge to cover the printing costs and a 40% discount to retailers. This is less than the price we can charge for the book based on our research. So does this mean the book can be sold at a profit?

It depends.

The next step in the calculation is to estimate total net sales and costs. Because the average books sells about 500 copies I use this in my estimates. A forty percent retail discount off a list price of $8.95 leaves $5.37 per copy for the publisher, which will be your net sales for each book. Multiply this by 5oo books to get the total net sales of $2685.

Now compute your expected cost:

  • Your cost of printing is $3.15 times 500 books, or $1575.
  • If you are publishing someone else’s manuscript you need to pay royalties. We pay a 12.5% royalty on net sales, which in this case is $336.
  • Proof reading will cost $3 per page on average, while copy editing can cost $4 a page and content editing can cost $7.50 a page. For this estimate I’m going to assume $4 a page, or $600.
  • Illustrations can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 an image, depending on the type of image (full color or black and white line art) and the amount of detail. For the children’s book I’m going to assume $750 for 15 interior black and white images and $200 for the cover.
  • Professional interior layout with a desktop publishing program can cost as much as editing, so let’s use $600 in this example.

This gives total costs for producing the book of $4061, which is $1376 more than the net sales for 500 copies. In this example you would need to sell 1387 copies of the book to cover your costs. Even if you are self-publishing (which means you are not paying royalties to another person) and leave out the interior art, your total costs are still $2975, which is more than the net sales of $2685.

If a book cannot be produced at a profit (where total net sales are greater than costs), a publisher will not move ahead with a project. If you are considering self-publishing and the above analysis shows you cannot produce the book at a profit then you should also consider whether to move ahead with the project.

The following is a simple formula to determine how many copies of a book you would need to sell to cover the costs of a self-publishing package:

Copies to sell = Cost of the package/(0.6 * list price – cost of printing)

If the cost of a self-publishing package is $3000 (including all of the above costs like editing), your book sells for $14.95, and the printing cost is $4.15 (which would be the cost of a 250-page book with a black and white interior), you would need to sell 623 copies to break even on the investment.

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Looking Ahead…

In my last blog, I mentioned that I would be using this blog to talk about some of the things we’ve accomplished in the past five years. As I thought about it, I realized these are all things I’ve mentioned in the past (like being selected for the article “Keys to Cracking 10 Top Markets” by Adria Haley which appeared in the September 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest and Tears for the Mountain briefly reaching #1 in the Social Policy category on Amazon). Thus, I want to use this blog to discuss where we are going over the next year.

  • Our web presence: Last night some of you might have noticed that our website was down for about half an hour. The reason is that we’ve rolled out a completely new website (http://www.divertirpublishing.com). In the coming months we will be adding several sections to the website after I get some input from our current authors as to what they would like to see (for example, should there be a separate “Our Authors” page or should the author info be included on the product pages, and should we offer to provide each of our authors with their own page which we would host). Another goal over the next six months is to make the website more interactive so that readers will be more likely to stay and browse.
  • Social Media: I have a confession – I don’t log into Facebook every day, and I’m not much into social media. The good news is that our Acquisitions Editor, Jen, is really into it and was the driving force behind the Facebook giveaways we’ve been doing this year. Jen and I are currently talking about other things we can do using social media to help our authors to promote their books and will be putting together a plan before the holidays so we can take advantage of that sales period.
  • Book Promotion: While social media is one way to promote books and help readers discover new authors, it’s not the only way. Over the past few months Jen and I have been trying different things (like the giveaways and adjusting the prices for some of our eBooks) to see what works and what doesn’t. While this is still a work in progress, I think the data we’ve been collecting will better enable us to help our authors with one of the most difficult aspects of publishing – book promotion.
  • Divertir Magazine: We’ve been talking about doing this for a while and feel the time is right. The magazine will be free and will feature short stories, poetry, and articles by our staff (including author interviews). We feel this will help bring Divertir Publishing and the books we offer to the attention of more readers and are pretty excited to get started. This also means we will be opening up queries for short stories in most genres in the coming months (no more waiting for an anthology with a specific genre to submit). We will continue to also do our short story collections, and will be choosing stories from the magazine to provide that content.

I expect the next year to be a pretty exciting time at Divertir Publishing, and look forward to working with all of you.

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A Time to Celebrate…

No, I did not hit the Powerball – but the thing I am celebrating is just as good. On September 17th of this year, Divertir Publishing will have been in business for five years.

When I started the company in 2009, I knew there was a chance I would not be writing this blog. That year, based on the number of requests for ISBN blocks from new companies, Bowker estimated that approximately 80,000 new publishers went into business. That same year a statistic came out that 95% of new publishers fail in the first two years, while 98% were no longer publishing books after five years. So I’m personally quite proud to be able to say that, at our five year anniversary, we have seventeen books in print and another fourteen under contract.

In my next few blog I will cover some of the things I feel we have accomplished, some things that still need to be done, and what we have planned for the coming year (such as the fact that our new website will debut within the next two weeks). In this blog I think it’s important to take time to thank some people who made this anniversary possible.

Beth Harvey was out first Acquisitions Editor, in addition to being the editor for two of our short story collections and several of our full-length manuscripts. Beth and I met at the karaoke show of a mutual friend – yes, I meet writers at the strangest places. Beth has moved on to start Insomnia Publishing, and I wish her all the best with this new endeavor.

I met Lisa Keele on Deviant Art – she ran the Daily Lit Deviation group. Lisa started as an editor with us, editing one of our first short story collections and several of our novels. She then served for a brief period as our Senior Editor. Lisa has moved on to other pursuits not directly involved with writing, and again I wish her the best.

Elisa Nuckle and Mel Ngai both worked as editors for us in our early years. Elisa has returned to school to finish her degree, while Mel is now working with Beth at Insomnia Publishing.

Jen Corkill-Hunt has been our Acquisitions Editor since the beginning of the year. Jen started as a reviewer for us, moved into editing after taking the Kobayashi Maru of all editing tests (which I have since stopped using because of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment), and now runs the editing side of Divertir Publishing. I consider Jen to be both my “partner-in-crime” and a close friend, and she is responsible for several of the new ideas we’ve implemented this year.

Jayde Gilmore started with us as a reviewer, while Laura Jamison started as an intern. Both now review and edit manuscripts for us. In addition, Laura is responsible for designing the incredible cover for Repeat Offenders by Bill Bonvie and is the girl on the cover of Guardian’s Nightmare. Without the dedication both have shown to Divertir Publishing our backlog would be a lot larger than it is.

The people responsible for wading through the queries to identify books that might be of interest to us are our reviewers, and without them we would have much less time to actually publish manuscripts. Our current reviewers are Michael Gilmore, Sam Tower, Ben Lyles, Lylah Caldwell, and Marie Wagner. In addition Sarah Welsh, one of our authors, reviews romance novels for us.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank our authors. Each of them put there trust in a small startup publishing company, and without their trust, hard work, and continued input on how to improve things at Divertir Publishing we would not be where we are today – celebrating our fifth anniversary.

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