Friday, July 28, 2006

Tracks Internet startups

Can be a source of many ideas.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Publishing a book

The last post mentioned the possibility of self-publishing a book, and since I also wrote about self-publishing in the article How to make a million dollars, I have received questions asking about book publishing. The gist is, "will it really work if I publish a book myself?" and, "how do I do it?"

I have published a number of books through traditional publishers (here's a list). My wife and I started a publishing company and have published books ourselves. I know of people who have successfully self-published through places like Xlibris ( Big doors opened by talks about one part of the phenomenon).

First, let's talk about what would happen if you were to go through the traditional publication process with a traditional publisher. It would go something like this:
  1. You would come up with the idea for the book
  2. You would prepare a proposal
  3. You would submit the proposal directly to an acquisitions editor with a publisher, or you would sign a contract with an agent and the agent would submit it.
  4. Assume that a publisher accepts the proposal
  5. You would create the manuscript
  6. Depending on the type of book, the publisher would send it out for technical review, or your editor at the publisher would review the book. If it is a technical book (anything from a trade paperback to a text book) it would go out for review, and anywhere from 3 to 10 people would send back their comments after reading the book. Works of fiction would typically be reviewed by a single editor who would work with the author.
  7. You would revise the manuscript and get it into its final form. This might take a single cycle, or several.
  8. The book would then be copyedited to eliminate grammatical, typographic and other errors.
  9. Somewhere in here the cover design would be finalized and approved.
  10. The book would be typeset, and you would see the galleys.
  11. If the book is going to be indexed, indexing would probably happen somewhere in here. You might be asked to do it, or the publisher might do it.
  12. You would probably see the book one last time, although changes here are unlikely unless it is small typos, etc.
  13. The book would go to press.
  14. A month or two later, books would be in the warehouse and start heading to stores.
  15. The publisher's marketing plan would start up to promote the book.
If you are going to publish a book yourself, you have to go through the same steps. The difference is that you may be the one doing the work, and/or you pay someone else. You also control the timeline, rather than the publisher. Therefore, in self-publishibng, we can short-circuit steps 1 through 4 and start with step 5.

The manuscript can come from a variety of sources. You can write a traditional book, you can compile material that you have been publishing on the Web, etc.

Then we come to step 6: The review process. If you are self-publishing, you have several options here:
  1. You can ask your friends, family and/or colleagues to review your book.
  2. You can pay a professional reviewer/editor to help you.
  3. You can ask for help with the review from your friends on the Internet.
Option 3 can be interesting. Simply post a part of your book (or the whole thing) on the Internet and ask people for their comments, suggestions, questions and opinions. If you have built an audience on the Web, they will respond. Let them know that they can discuss anything:
  • The tone of the book
  • Its structure
  • The ideas within the book
  • Transitions from chapter to chapter
  • Places where you feel things are too wordy or sparse
  • Places where things seem unclear and need further explanation or another example
  • Places where the book gets boring
  • typos
  • And so on
Once the manuscript is completed and edited, you are ready for publication. A place like Xlibris makes the process relatively easy, or you can do it yourself (Dan Poynter's book "the Self-Publishing Manual" can be very helpful).

Once the book goes to press, you market it. If you are self-publishing, you have total control as well as total responsibility.

I realize that you may be thinking, "what does book publishing have to do with the Web?" There are two ways that books and web sites are inter-related:
  1. Publishing a book may be another way to distribute content that you have built on the Web.

  2. Building a web site is an important part of publishing a book, especially if you are self-promoting it.
Books and web sites often go hand-in-hand.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Blogging a book

Letter from a reader:
    Hi Marshall:

    Been reading your stuff. Quite fascinating actually. Anyway I have a great idea for a book I have been pondering. Men will love it I am sure. Would it be a good idea to blog my book first to get some exposure from publicists etc, and is this way a good way to make money by blogging it? Any ideas or help would be appreciated.
There are two separate issues here:
  1. Getting exposure
  2. Making money
The good news is that one often leads to the other.

If you look at the post on the yarn harlot (here) you can see this relationship at work. She was able to get very good exposure with her blog. The exposure drove sales of her book, and she made a lot of money with it.

If you KNOW that you have a great idea for a book, with nearly 100% chance of going to the NYTimes best seller list, then obviously it makes sense to go to a big publisher and write the book. But how many of us KNOW that (besides people like Tom Clancy and J. K. Rowling, how many of us know?)?

If you are "pretty sure", here's an alternative: Write the book, publish it yourself and build a companion web site to go with it and promote it. See this for an example. By publishing it yourself, you have more control over its publicity.

If you THINK it MIGHT be a great idea (which is probably 99% of all book ideas), then I would recommend trying it out on the Web first. It takes a lot of work to write a book, and that work is wasted if no one buys it. By putting it on the Web first, you find out if anyone cares. Publish parts of the book on the web and see how resonant it is. If it is resonant, then you can write the book, plus you will have a built-in audience. Look At, in his New Yorker archive. Gladwell is a major author doing the same thing.

In addition, some book ideas that you put on the Web lend themselves to direct web revenue (e.g. through adsense ads). It depends on the book. The only way to find out is to try it.

Some people worry, "if I publish it on the web, won't that hurt book sales?" In my experience it works the opposite way. Publishing on the Web helps book sales. Plus, by publishing on the web you can get valuable feedback and tweak your book ideas before going to press.

Google Toolbar PageRank Demystified

Google Toolbar PageRank Demystified

Monday, July 24, 2006

Top 10 Dumbest Online Business Ideas That Made It Big Time

Perhaps this is not the "top 10", but it is an interesting list:

Top 10 Dumbest Online Business Ideas That Made It Big Time

One thing to keep in mind is that there are hundreds of millions of web sites. No one knows what will resonate or not. So some "non-intuitive" ideas are going to resonate. The same thing can happen in books (who would have thought that the first Harry Potter book would sell so well?), movies (Blair Witch Project), games (who would have predicted Sudoku?), etc.