Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Big Picture

I am not sure that I have been communicating to my readers as accurately as I would like what iUBR is all about. I have always been a big picture kind of guy. I see books as things we all read, and POD books as those things we may wish to read that maybe only a small number of other people wish to read, too. I would always hope that this small cadre of readers for a particular POD book is the only reason the major publishers are not interested in it. I am not one to seek out my entertainment within narrowly defined genres. If you ask me what kind of music I like, I might answer that the more difficult it is to classify, the better I like it. I am always looking for the new niche. I don't want to discover how much a book so closely fits within a popular genre. I'm looking for square pegs that are good because the author has created a quality package, and not because the book slips silently into a well-worn groove.

This is not a genre review site. I don't even select books for review based on genre or my personal taste in subject matter. I want everyone to know right now that I have never agreed with the concept of a reviewer of any sort of work reviewing a piece and panning it simply because he does not care for that particular genre of book, album, or movie, etc. I find that sort of review entirely despicable. Even if a highly paid, name-recognized critic has been ordered by his editor to review something he doesn't like, if he cannot duck the assignment, it is his responsibility to give it his best shot and describe the work in a manner that will be useful to his readers who do enjoy that genre. The books selected for review at iUBR are chosen because, from the result of my research of the book and the author in question, it appears that the book may deserve my attention and the attention of readers. My personal choices of non-POD reading material have very little influence on my choices of books to read and review at iUBR. I know this may seem a little wacko, but remember, I am fascinated by the big picture. In this case, the big picture is the world of POD and its new role in the larger world of publishing.

We all know that Print On Demand is an all-new animal in the jungle. This technology has allowed many thousands of writers who want the center-stage limelight shone on them to step into the light at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, we have all met at least a few vampires who should never have been brought out into the light! There are many slap-fighters out there who love to scream at the top of their lungs that all the POD authors are vampires! According to them, if the writers cannot stand the sun, they should just go back where they came from and let only real writers stand in the spotlight. I love to speak in analogies, and here is one for you. I read certain housing bubble blogs daily, and they have a refrain they have run in the ground since the issue came to light. Most of the people who post and comment on these blogs want housing prices to crash and teach all the people who are crashing with these prices a lesson they won't forget! Do you see a similarity there to the POD slap-fighters? Neither group is actually wrong. Many of their positions on the issues are correct. The problem is simply that they are so busy insisting their correctness that they never see the many shades of grey inherent in both issues. Some foreclosures are sad stories of collateral damage, although the bulk of the problem was begun by selfish, greedy, arrogant investors. Many quality POD books have been created for a market ignored by the mega-publishers, although the technology has clearly opened the gate to the barnyard.

There are many ways in which a POD book and a traditionally published book are not synonymous. One of the most significant issues is editing and another one is proofreading. POD authors have to create or approve a cover design and write a cover blurb. Even if they do not do all this personally, they must participate considerably in the process. There are no teams of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, or marketers available to do these tasks for the authors. There is no one to say, I don't think I would do that, if I were you. There is only the author and his computer. Of course some writers have friends available for help or advice, and some writers pay certain professionals for their manuscript or cover design expertise, but the final product is mostly the result of the writer's brain and his symbiotic relationship with his computer.

I had once hoped that I would discover more active participation in this honorable, but time consuming, project called iUBR. I can personally read and review so few of the massive number of iUniverse books continually being published. I had hoped for a more organized effort from other POD review bloggers and other websites with intentions similar to mine. There are so many deserving POD authors out there who will never have a chance to connect with their readers. Hold onto your knees because here comes the part that is so difficult for many of you to swallow. Those books that do not meet iUBR standards drag us all down into the muck. We must face this fact. We cannot hide from it and hope it goes away. Believe me, it won't. I have been reading the posts of the past twenty-four hours at the IAG Yahoo Group, and yes, the subject being discussed has spurred me onward with this article. This matter is at the very heart of my first post introducing IAG to the world. There is no easy answer. I said that then and I am still saying it. I support IAG, as well as all the other websites and blogs trying to do the right thing for the good guys among the multitude of POD authors. I realize we are a herd of rabid egos on acid. I realize we are the cats when you hear how difficult it is to herd cats. The problem is that the dogs will always win if we do not organize ourselves better and defend our hard-won territory. We shall never succeed in that endeavor while participating in a never ending succession of catfights.

My assessment is that there is absolutely no correlation in the world of POD books between quality of composition and book sales. There is no correlation between awards and quality or awards and sales. There is no correlation between cover design or cover blurbs and sales. There is no correlation between editing or proofreading quality and sales. There is very little correlation between promotional effort in the form of time or money and sales. There is very little correlation between five-star reviews at Amazon and editing, proofreading, or sales.

There is a moderate correlation between book quality and the age and maturity of authors. There is a moderate correlation between the percentage of quality versus non-quality books according to the publisher; i.e., Lulu prints more trash than iU. There is a moderate correlation between the professional attitude of the authors and the age of the authors. There is a moderate correlation between the success of the authors and the authors' bad attitudes, particularly if the perceived success of the author is due to the wrong reasons; i.e., when the author's success is greater than deserved, either because of the book's length or quality or the ease with which the author has exploited a niche. There is a moderate correlation between the success of a book and its online searchability.

There is a high correlation between a book's subject matter and the quantity of obsessors for that subject matter. There is a high correlation between a book's sales and its obsessors when the title or subtitle is highly searchable. There is a high correlation between the name of any famous person, either alive or dead, and the success of a POD book about that person. Finally, there is a high correlation with the success of any POD book that has been effectively tied into a connection with some other entity. I have seen successful POD books connected with video games, movies, places, comedy acts, musical acts, journalistic columns, and probably a few things I cannot recall right now.

Here is an example of just one little clarification of the IAG dilemma. Someone at IAG has suggested reading only the first chapter or selectively reading individual pages scattered throughout the text to get a synopsis of the quality of a POD book. The problem with this is that many POD books get increasingly worse in their error count as the story progresses. I assume this is because the author is getting increasingly bored and impatient with what is surely the most tedious element of publishing. Awards and reviews have also been mentioned within the context of vetting a POD book, but this field has already been heavily compromised by many unscrupulous paid review sites and paid award scams. As you know, I can tell you a thing or two about the legitimacy of these things, too! We need to rise above these issues. We must take the high road if we truly wish to succeed in the big picture, but there are members of IAG who clearly wish to support these scams. The end does not justify the means when the barnyard starts mooing and braying, making each of us look like just another chicken looking for a worm. Welcome to the catfight.


Malcolm R. Campbell said...

There are many issues here, but I think most of us who've written POD books would like to see them approached with the same care and the same standards as a mainstream book. While agents might reject a book altogether based on a one-page cover letter and a few selected pages, reviewers are not expect to approach books this way. You certainly don't.

The problems that plague many of us, proofreading and copyediting, aren't easy to resolve. Most of us cannot find all of the errors in our own copy. But hiring an editor who will charge from 1 to 5 cents a word is, while a fair price, also an exhorbitant price when compared to what the book will likely earn.

There are times when I think that authors--who are members of such sites as Authors Den--could help each other a lot more by volunteering to edit each other's manuscripts rather than volunteering to review each others books unless one has access to mainstream view publications and sites. This might cut down the number of errors.

We are still not living in a world that takes POD books seriously. Until we are, even the perfect POD book isn't going to find many friendly sites such as yours that can really do much to influence the reading public.

I have over the years done a few reviews, but I'm not yet convinced that authors sending out dozens of free copies in exchange for amazon reviews willl impact sales much at all. The lack of reviews on amazon looks bad. But once there are a few good ones there, most people do not see them because, especially in fiction, if the book and author are unknown, few searches will turn them up; and when they are discovered, they'll be rejected out of hand by most readers since they won't have heard any buzz about them anywhere.

Sad state of affairs.


Without Ribbons said...

In reference to your very true comment about Lulu, I'm saddened at the lack of fiction in their Top 100 Selling titles. That's not to say Jeremy Robinson hasn't done a fantastic job at getting noticed, but what makes books like "e-Start Your Web Store with Zen Cart" so popular?

This is why I created the Lulu Book Review blog. I'm hoping to shed some light on the good copy buried deep in the stacks!

Thanks for your support.

Floyd M. Orr said...

I want to offer a special thank you to both Malcolm and Shannon for your insightful comments.

Malcolm, I know you have contributed helpful information to this blog in the past, and your comments are always welcome. Proofreading is clearly the bane of POD. I think many authors are just too lazy, naive, or selfish to take this meticulous job seriously enough. I offered to do this service for half the going rate a while back, but I have received no takers. The offer is always open. You can refer to my post entitled The Proof is in the Nitpick to learn the self-employed method of proofing that I personally have used and recommend. I don't think authors will ever succeed in trading this skill, as you have suggested, just because it is so tedious and time consuming. I certainly think you have a good idea with this, although I am skeptical of its chance for success. Have you approached IAG with this concept? For now, I think I'll just have to continue rattling the cages of iU authors over this issue until a significant number of them get it.

Shannon, the problem you mention is endemic to all POD publishers, I'm afraid. This has always been one of my talking points on this blog. I ususally refer to these successful authors as cheaters. Any disparaging remarks I make toward Lulu are usually based on the general idea that the brand attracts all those too cheap to invest real money in their books' production. I have no direct knowledge of the subject matter, since I have never read a Lulu book. I wish you all the best in your endeavor to do for Lulu what I have tried to accomplish with iU.

Bill Binkley said...

Thank you for a great article highlighting the problem that authors have with editing and proof reading when they publish their book with a POD publisher.

I would like to share, if this is a proper forum, how I wrote and got my novel, al-Qaeda Strikes Again, edited and ready to be published.

The seed was sprung from a one page email sent to the FBI on November the seven, several years earlier. This email was sent under the Rewards for Justice program, with a title of “Possible Terrorist Plot” which set forth how such an attack could take place.

Then in July of 2007 the first step of writing took place. “Start.” Then for the next seven months I was pounding the keyboard transferring my thoughts into a word processor. Then finally I hit the period key on the keyboard at the end of the final chapter.

For the next two months, I constantly rewrote, updated and printed drafts. I would print the manuscript on a HP 2605dn printer that has the capability to print on both sides of the paper on a single print cycle. Then I would take the paper to Kinko’s and have it trimmed down to the actual size of a paperback book, 5½ by 8½, and spirally bound for a proof book.

With these proof books in hand, I asked family and friends if they would like to read a copy and give me their comments. Always I referenced my question with the statement that I would need the marked up book back within a week. When you are within this cycle, a marked up book returned any later is not of much benefit.

Now it was time to get serious about editing, so on March 20 I sent the first chapter to an editor in Arizona. When I received back an edited chapter, I would send her the next chapter, etc. On May 15, I received back chapter nineteen, the final chapter. My niece, Donna Payne, was a legal secretary before she retired and turned my words into readable text. During this editing phrase, she would include comments for me to consider when a chapter was returned, so I was changing things as we were editing together.

Now that the book was taking shape, I needed to have extensive interviews with Special Agents of the FBI and Detectives in the Dallas Homicide Division. Interviews were also arranged with people in the Medical and Paramedic professions, along with a Funeral Director and others. Needless to say, the interviews with the FBI Special Agents were the most extensive and lasted hours, along with follow-up exchanges of emails. Special appreciation goes to Supervisory Special Agent Thomas D. Petrowski for his time and support in giving me an insight into the organization, culture and procedures of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This book has been made more accurate and complete because of all those who graciously provided their time and support.

I sent the editor the complete manuscript on May 16 in one file. After her final edits, I received the manuscript back on May 23. The pagination was checked, etc. and then four final proof books were printed, bound and distributed. There were another two people who lived in remote cities that agreed to proofread from a PDF file.

After receiving input from these six people, I made more than 100 adjustments to the manuscript. An updated PDF was then sent to another person for a QC review. Knowing how easy it is to make an error, the current manuscript was compared to the file that the proof books were printed from. All changes were then placed in a file that was reviewed by my daughter, Aleta, that worked in word processing for a major company. Minor adjustments were then again made to the manuscript.

While these final editing and reviews were taking place, using the “Word Perfect” search and replace for control codes, the manuscript was meticulously reviewed to make sure that everything was correct. Several extra codes were found that needed to be deleted, that caused minor variations that were almost unnoticeable in the printed proof books. In a properly formatted book, there should never be more than a single space, so any multiple spaces were converted to a single space, and there were many. Also any spaces at the beginning or end of a paragraph were searched for and removed. Four missing periods were also found and inserted. Mind you that none of the proofreaders noticed these missing periods, including myself.

During all this time, book covers were being designed with valuable suggestions from others and selecting a title for the book. These two items were the most challenging in getting this book ready to be published.

Now, I was ready to save the manuscript as a PDF file, copy it to a CD, along with images for the book covers and spline to send to the publisher. I received a proof book from the publisher in about four weeks, after another cursory review, I signed the release form and the book was published in July, 2008.

Bill Binkley