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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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Brave New Worlds…

For the past few blogs I’ve been writing about what we look for when reviewing manuscripts for various genres. This weeks I want to tackle Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m putting them together in the same blog because, while the genres are very different, often what I look for is not.

  • Make your worlds interesting. Often when writing science fiction and fantasy you are creating a new world (the exceptions being urban and paranormal fantasy, which is more about mythical creatures living in our world in the present or past). Does the reader know all the details they need to about the spaceship your characters are traveling in and the planet they are visiting? Can the reader visualize the creatures (mythical or not) in you work? Can the reader get a sense of how scary the “badlands” in your fantasy novels are from the description you’ve given? A world that has not adequately described to your readers will be uninteresting.
  • Have fun with characters. What I really mean here is that you can have a lot of fun when developing your characters because they don’t need to be human or possess standard human traits. In The King’s Tournament, a fantasy novel by John Yeo currently under contract with Divertir, “Balor the Barbarian” speaks about himself in the third person, throws a cow through the Duke’s window to pay his taxes, and proves he not a complete ass when he tells one character how to beat another in battle. A Twist of Fate by Mark Johnson relies heavily on the use of magic in a world where several of the characters are demigods. Some authors overlook developing their characters in as much detail as their worlds when writing science fiction and fantasy. This is a mistake, because two-dimensional characters make uninteresting books.
  • Have fun with science. What color would the skin of a creature be if it lived in a predominantly methane atmosphere where the respiration of oxygen did not occur? You can have a lot of fun with science, even if your book is a fantasy novel. In Kindar’s Cure, by Michelle Hauck, the main character is afflicted with a rare disease and finding a new source of a metal ore is the secret to saving the kingdom. Michelle’s book also relies heavily on magic, which some would claim is just science we have not discovered yet. In one of our upcoming book, Harold and the Purple Wormhole by Richard Mellinger, the “wizard” is a man from the future who creates items he claims to be magical.
  • The basic laws of physics must still apply. An object falling towards a large mass (like a planet) will ultimately crash into it because of gravity unless the object is diverted. An object cannot travel faster than the speed of light without either finding a way to turn it into pure energy and back (which would still only allow travel at the speed of light), finding a way to shield the object so it is not converted into pure energy when it hits the speed of light, or creating a “fold” in the space-time continuum that can be used to “shorten” the distance between two locations. Having things happen in your manuscript that readers know can’t happen (or more precisely that readers can’t believe are possible) is the fastest way to lose a readers in either of these genres.

Whether you are writing science fiction or fantasy, the details you provide readers really are critical and could be the difference between an exciting book and one that never finds a publisher.

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