Question of the Day for Writers – “What’s Your Word Count?”

"My book is this many penguins long."

Somewhere along the road to finding a publisher, self-publisher, POD company, or whatever else is out there to publish your book these days, you are very likely going to be asked to reveal the word count of your book. In my experience in asking new aspiring authors this question, it is as confusing as explaining the origins of the universe for some.  In fact, I have been completely floored by the answers I received.  Here are just few that left me speechless.

Question: What is the word count of your book?

Most Frequent Answer: “It’s eleven chapters long.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: There is no uniform length for chapters.  A chapter can range from just a few words to a crap load.

Second Most Frequent Answer: “It’s 110 Pages.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: I have no idea what spacing you used, what font you used, what size font you used, etc.

Response That Made Me Want to Punch Myself: “Do you want me to count the conjunctions?”

  • Why this isn’t a good question: Unless conjunctions are declassified from a word to a sub-word much like Pluto was declassified from a planet to sub-planet, count them.  In fact, don’t count any words.  Just use the word count function in Word.  The counting is done for you.

Answer That Made Me Wish I Had Gone Into the Family Business (eye care): “My book is 482,000 characters with spaces.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: Words are made up of varying numbers of characters.  It’s impossible to tell how many words you have by giving me a character count.

Answer That Made Me Question The Existence of All That is Holy and Sacred: “Penguin.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: A penguin is an animal not a word count.    This is an actual answer I got once.  I am still completely baffled and entertained by it.

So, now you know.  Go forth and count your words.  Feel free to count penguins, too.

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One Thing You Should Never, Ever, Ever, Ever… Ever Do As An Author

I was shocked – shocked, I tell you – when I read a recent article written by Brent Sampson titled Top 5 Book Selling Tips.  Now, I don’t know Brent personally.  He’s got many years of publishing experience under his belt, and I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but one of his tips is the single worst tip I have ever seen posted by someone who should know better.  Here is his tip:

TIP # 1 Online reviews are paramount in importance when it comes to drawing attention to your book. And the best part is, you’re in control of your own destiny! If you haven’t yet submitted your own review on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, what are you waiting for? This should be one of the first steps for every published author.

Authors Don't Let Other Authors Review Their Own Books!

In case you missed it, his advice is to review your own book on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is correct in that online reviews can help you sell books, but he couldn’t be more wrong by encouraging you to review your own book.  Never review your own book! I don’t care how desperate you are to sell books. It is never okay to review your own book.  It’s completely unethical.  If you identify yourself as the author, it is useless because consumers will see it as tacky.  If you hide your identity (which I should point out, Sampson isn’t encouraging you to do), it’s seen as dishonest and could sink your publishing career if your secret gets out.

He goes on to advise you to ask family and friends to review your book on these sites, as well.  I don’t have a problem with this if they actually read your book.  They have just as much right to review your book as a stranger.  Granted, they aren’t going to be as critical as someone you don’t know, but reviews are opinions and opinions are based on a lot of factors. If eating all your peas when you were four-years-old matters to your mom when evaluating your book, then so be it.  As long as you’re soliciting honest reviews and not positive reviews, I’m okay with this practice.  The mind of the reviewer is out of your purview no matter how close you are to them.  Accept every review graciously.

So, what aren’t you going to do today… or any day if you’re an author?

BTW – Here’s a story from 2004 about authors who were caught reviewing their own books: Amazon Glitch Outs Authors Reviewing Own Books

*Note – Again, I’m not suggesting that Sampson is encouraging you to surreptitiously review your own book, but still it’s horrible advice.

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Old Publishing Rant That’s Still Relevant

I originally posted this on August 21 of 2008.  And given that two pieces of news came out yesterday that seem to conflict with each other, I realized the content of the rant is even truer today.  The two pieces of news?

Essentially, that means more units of a product are being produced when demand for that product seems to be in a decline.  Why?  I think this old post explains why.  Feel free to leave your comments.

To say the world of publishing is in a constant state of change is a lot like saying the sun is hot. The ever-advancing realm of technology has not only transformed the method of production and delivery of books, it has also changed the buying habits of the reading public. Because of print-on-demand and the growth of online commerce, the barriers to getting a book to market are virtually gone. Anyone with a computer can write a book, upload it to a POD provider and make it available for sale with an online retailer. Inventory is no longer necessary. The cost of publishing is frighteningly reasonable, certainly more so than it ever has been before. The publishing world is no longer for the elite. It is an industry for the everyman. In short, we are in the midst of a publishing revolution. The question begs, however, is it too late?

Trends suggest we are reading less, yet more books were published last year than ever before. In fact a greater percentage of Americans would rather write a book than read one. I doubt this phenomenon exist with any other product on the market today.

So what is our love affair with writing, and ultimately publishing? Why is there a seemingly compulsive need to be an author in America when there’s arguably a relatively small market for books? It is a desire based on a lie or at the very least a misconception. Popular culture would have you believe that an author lives a life of leisure and luxury. They attend parties and rub elbows with celebrities from every walk of life. People want to publish for the same reason they want to be on reality shows. It seems less like work and more like being the center of attention.

If you want to write to be famous, put away that story idea. There are easier ways to be famous. Becoming a doctor and separating conjoined twins in a 27 hour surgery may be easier. It is certainly less time consuming. Training everyday for the Boston Marathon may be easier than achieving fame through publishing. You’ll certainly be in better shape than 99.9% of writers. Winning the nomination for presidency from one of the major parties may be easier than becoming famous through the written word. You will at least get to do less work and attend those parties with celebrities that you wanted to attend.

Writing is hard work. Publishing is hard work. Selling books is hard work. The rewards are not usually commensurate with the amount of work you will expend. Write because you love it not because you think there is a pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow. If you’ve ever said, “I need to publish this book because I have to pay some bills.” Back away from the computer keyboard and start flipping through the classifieds.

Publishing should come from a place of passion. If you want it to be your main source of income, then plan to do the following:

    • Practice your craft.There are enough crappy writers on the market.Don’t be one of them.
    • Hire a professional designer for the interior and cover.Don’t be all things to your book.You’re the writer.Leave the rest to more qualified artists.There are rare cases where one person can write and design the book, but chances are you’re not one of them.
    • Work with an editor you trust, and by all means don’t be your own editor.
    • Invest time and money in marketing.If you think the book can sell itself, you’re wrong.If you don’t have a lot of money, spend a lot of time marketing your book.If you don’t have a lot of time, spend a lot of money on marketing your book.If you don’t have either, don’t plan on selling a lot of books.
    • Read books.If you’re not a reader, don’t kid yourself, you’re not a writer.
    • Give it time.Don’t measure in months here.Measure in years.

      If you follow these simple rules, you can succeed in publishing even if this new publishing revolution is too late in coming. The reading public is hungry for books of high quality. Give it to them. It’s your duty as an author. You’re part of the revolution. Act like it. Write like it.

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      Do Self-Published Authors Need Barnes & Noble?

      Little Known Fact: I played the bearded love interest in 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful."

      No need to prolong the suffering.  Let’s just rip the band-aid off.  Barnes & Noble doesn’t want to carry your self-published print-on-demand book.  In fact, they are annoyed that you would even ask.  It’s nothing personal.  They have limited bookshelf space and they are selling a product that is losing market share to other forms of entertainment.  From a business perspective, they want books that are going to carry the smallest amount of risk.  They want books that have the best possible chance of disappearing from the shelves and turning into profit.  Your self-published book with its limited marketing budget and your author’s name that has zero brand recognition just doesn’t fit the bill.  Not to mention they get a sweet returnable deal with major traditional publishers that basically gives them 90 days to sell the book or return it with no financial penalty.  In other words, it’s just business, and they are only annoyed with you because you are about the 100th POD author to ask in the last hour.  Barnes & Noble is not a bad company.  They are not trying to think of ways to prevent you from selling your book in their store.  They are trying to make money.

      Do they think your book is crap because it’s self-published?  Probably, but that really doesn’t enter into their decision.  Plenty of crap is published by traditional publishers, and they have no problem carrying those books. They don’t care that your book is well written or is designed well or even won an award or two.  They just want to know what you’re going to do to get the books out of their stores once they agree to shelve them.  And frankly, you can’t match what the traditional publishers are offering them.  I’m blunt because I care, and I don’t want to see you waste your time.

      You don’t need brick and mortar bookstores, and if you think you do, you shouldn’t use POD.  It’s not for you.  If you’re POD, and you’re trying to solve the brick and mortar puzzle, STOP!  You know all those goofy romantic comedies where the unpopular guy is always trying to get the homecoming queen, while totally ignoring the cute geeky girl who is madly in love with him?  Well, in this case, you’re the unpopular guy making a huge mistake by not seeing the opportunity right in front of your face.  Amazon is your geeky girl, and she’s head over heels for you, my POD friend. But she’s not just a geeky girl.  She’s a very popular geeky girl. Stop ignoring her, and get on with the relationship.  How?

      Concentrate your efforts on building your personal brand online.  Make a name for yourself through all the personal branding tools, blogs, social media, podcasts, Youtube, etc.  Use that energy you would have used to get into brick and mortar stores to no avail and drive traffic to your Amazon detail page.  You have all the power to sell your book online where you are wanted.  Why are you wasting your time and energy trying to sell in an arena where you have no power and you’re not wanted?

      I close with one piece of advice.  If you’re considering a POD company that has convinced you that they can get you into brick and mortar stores, run away as fast as you can.  They can’t.  They aren’t going to spend a second of time trying to place your book in brick and mortar bookstores.    They want you to buy into their returnable program, mostly likely with Ingram.  This will include your book in Ingram’s database, but they won’t carry any inventory in their warehouse.  Your book will be available as a special order title.  Someone will have to enter the store and ask for your book to be ordered.  So, I ask you, if the returnable program doesn’t mean you’re going to get shelf space, what is its value?

      Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.

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      You’re all great, and I’m okay failing my way to the top!

      I felt compelled to do a follow-up to my “Failing My Way to the Top” post.  Many of you expressed concern in emails, on Facebook, and in real life that I appeared to be depressed and contemplating giving up writing.  I appreciate your pats on the back and “hang in there’s.”  It is truly very touching to know that you care that much.  I am not, nor will I ever stop writing, or publishing for that matter.  Rereading the post, I could see how you might get that idea.  When I talked about not trying anymore, I was referring to my attempts to get one of the mainstream publishers to publish the Oz Chronicles or any of the other books I’ve written.

      It doesn’t just entail my agent sending out queries and fielding questions about me, my books, and my platform.  I’ve received some pretty in-depth notes from publishers on changes they would like to see.   In the past year and a half, I believe I’ve done 4 pretty significant rewrites.  And I have nothing to show for it.  In addition, it has forced me to delay the release of Lost Days; Book Four of the Oz Chronicles.

      So, am I depressed?  No.  Not in the least.  Am I frustrated?  Absolutely.  Am I ready to give up on mainstream publisher?  Nope.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t stop whining and moaning and venting.  I also write posts like “failing my way to the top,” in an effort to share my experience with other writers.  I want this blog to be somewhat of a teaching tool for those out there chasing the same dream I am.  I want them to know that it’s tough and maddening and confusing and worth every second of it.  For that reason, there will be times that my posts on this subject will be uncomfortably candid. I want them to see the warts and all.

      And to my agent, don’t worry.  I’m still up for the rewrites and playing the game.  Don’t get nervous.  If it’s the last thing I do, I will get you your payday!

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      Geeky Publishing Stuff – Who is today’s book consumer?

      Found this awesome presentaion/video from R.R. Bowker on today’s book consumer.  This will only be interesting if you have a book on the market or want to have a book on the market. It really just re-enforces the growing influence of new media marketing in the publishing industry.

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      Book Four of the Oz Chronicles – The Land of the Dead – A Candid Look at the Publishing Industry

      Book Four is coming.  I promise!

      Book Four is coming. I promise!

      Ok, I have been fielding questions now for about a year concerning Book Four of the Oz Chronicles Series.  First, I want you to know that I really appreciate your interest.  It means a lot to me that you care enough to keep needling me about the release of the next book in the series.  Second, I appreciate your tolerance for my cryptic answers.  I haven’t felt comfortable enough to tell you what’s really going on behind the scenes because it doesn’t just involve me.  It involves my agent and about a half dozen major publishing companies.  I have spent a lot of time responding to comments and suggestions from the big boys just to show them that I’m willing to play by their rules.  Don’t worry, I’ve pushed back on major plot points that I thought were essential, but I’ve also given ground on things that were more aesthetic in nature.  So far, I’ve gotten pats on the back for my flexibility, turnaround time, and skill at applying suggested edits.  What I haven’t received is a book deal.

      Breaking down the doors of the mainstream publishing industry is the hardest thing I’ve ever done from a professional standpoint.   I’ve heard that getting a book deal is akin to winning the lottery, but I think it’s much easier to win the lottery.  Getting a book deal is as hard as winning the lottery, discovering a cure for cancer, and having your Youtube video go viral all on the same day.   I am in the fortunate position of having an agent who is my advocate in this process.  She’s been terrific, and I now know why they are necessary.

      I have been at this for a long, long time.  I am one of those writers that has five manuscripts and 12 screenplays sitting in a drawer somewhere.  They’ve been viewed by an elite group of people, and by elite, I mean people who were willing to read something written by an unknown bum like me.   I’m not counting the three Oz Chronicles books in this count.  They’re not sitting in a drawer.  Thanks to the POD and ebook world, they have been read by literally thousands of people.   In fact, I have been perfectly content with offering my books through these low-cost, high-tech vehicles.  From what I’ve learned about the industry, I’ve made enough money and then some to cover the typical advance for a first time author.  I’ve done it with a marketing budget that hasn’t exceeded $1,500 since I first self-published in 2005.  I have what the mainstream publishing industry calls a working platform to get the word out about my books.  Essentially that means I’m an active blogger, Facebooker, and Tweeter.  In short, if you’re reading this, you’re a part of my platform.  Please, don’t feel used.  This is less a marketing tool for me than it is a release.  Call it my place to vent and make a fool of myself.  The marketing part is just a byproduct at that venting.

      I have been asked repeatedly if I’m doing so well with POD and ebook publishing, why even try to get a traditional deal.  It’s a valid question.  I have a few answers:

      • There is no question the mainstream publishing industry can offer me a level of prestige that the self-publishing world cannot.  To be totally crass, this means more money coming in.  My platform will broaden, and other doors will open for me.   I consider my writing my career.  What I do to earn a living, supports my writing.  A mainstream deal means I am one step closer to my writing also being how I earn my living.
      • I have always seen the Oz Chronicles as a multi-media project.  It is not just a series of books.  It is a video game, a graphic novel, a series of films, action figures, maybe even an online role playing community.  A mainstream publishing company could give me access to all these different avenues for the Oz Chronicles.   I can publish a book on my own, but I can’t produce a video game on my own.  I’m not that smart or financially fluid.
      • I have to finish this thing.  I started this “publishing (or selling a script) as a goal” journey 20 plus years ago.  I have been rejected time and time again.  I have been told I am so close over and over again.  I have been ridiculed on a few occasions (very few).  I’ve even been called evil for my writing.  It may seem petty and pigheaded, but signing that dotted line will justify every turn I’ve taken and every word I’ve written.  It’s not like I’m dodging bullets to get published.  I’m just fielding a lot of no’s.

        What does all this have to do with Book Four of the Oz Chronicles?  Everything I’ve written in this post to this point has been one big excuse for why I haven’t published Book Four yet.  I’ve let it languish in limbo while the major publishers weighed in on Books One – Three.  I’ve placated my writer’s soul by writing another book in the meantime (which I’m planning to publish soon), but I’m not willing to wait anymore.  Book Four is officially on deck.  I’ve had a hard time getting back into it, but I had a breakthrough the other night that gave me the direction I needed.  I’m actually excited about getting it done.  Always a good sign.  I also realized that I have five other books I want to complete, and I have forbidden myself to get back to them until I’ve finished Book Four.  I will keep you updated on word count as I go.  Right now, I’m at 7,500 words.  My goal is 65,000.  So, you can see I have miles to go before I sleep, but the outline is done, and I’m ready to turn this march into a sprint.

        Thanks for your patience and if you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do to help.  There is.  Spread the word!

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