The Lowdown on Book Publishers – Part Two

An issue authors always have with publishers is royalties. Agreeing to them. Accounting for them. Collecting them. There are basically three arrangements for authors: (1) the author keeps most of the royalties; (2) the author keeps a smaller portion of the royalties in exchange for an advance; or (3) the author reduces the royalties for services. Let’s go over each one.

(1) The author keeps most of the royalties – This is usually the self-publishing route. Extremely popular today, authors can upload their manuscripts to an online publisher like Createspace and keep 70% of the royalties after the raw cost of producing the book is deducted. For eBooks, less than 20 cents of the costs are deducted from transmitting the eBook electronically. For maximizing royalties, this is the best deal out there.

(2)  The author keeps a smaller portion of the royalties in exchange for an advance – No one would take lower royalties unless they had a good reason, and a healthy advance is usually a good one. For first-time authors with no following or notoriety, it can bring in $5,000 to $25,000. The advance is credited against royalties and requires the author to “earn out” the advance before more money is paid. If we assume the author is getting 50 cents from each book sold, he or she needs to sell 50,000 books to earn out the advance and start receiving more royalties. For many authors, the advance is all they get. Advances used to be a lot more, but as the publishing companies have succumbed to online booksellers like Amazon, the advances have gone way down. When authors can snag 70% of royalties from your competitor, your business model has to change. Lower advances and reduced royalties are the changes that compensate for lower book sales.

(3) The author reduces the royalties for services – As publishing companies have adapted to the new reality of Amazon, they’ve found ways to make the author relationship work. One of the ways that are popular now is to forgo an advance and give the author fewer royalties than Createspace but more than a traditional “advance and small-royalty” agreement. For the author, this can range anywhere from 10% to 50% of the royalties. In exchange for this split, it’s common for the publishing company to pay for the cover design, interior layout, and printing of the books. But the big component of this deal is marketing. The publisher promises to spend great efforts and some money in marketing the book. For a first-time author, this can be a good deal.

When considering which way to go, I always advise my clients to make a list of the benefits on one side and costs on the other. And I carefully discuss with them the risks of each, risks that new authors often don’t see until it’s too late. Stay tuned for the next installment to see a discussion of these important risks.

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

The Lowdown on Book Publishers – Part One

Recently, I had a client tell me that he wanted to consider publishing his book with XYZ Publishing Company (Of course, I’ve made this name up to protect the real company). My client was a top executive with a top Fortune 100 Company, so he was plenty smart. Apparently, he liked this publishing company because they had published one of his favorite business books.

I gave him the speech I always give, about how there’s a lot to consider when deciding on which publishing company to use, but as usual, he had it all figured out. He did, however, send me to visit this company, check them out, and report back. I did, and here’s the gist of my report.

Their website says they are very successful at publishing books and take only forty each year. They claim to be top book marketers and make it sound as if you’d be lucky for them to consider your book. This always raises my suspicions.

I studied the address of their U.S. headquarters and made travel arrangements to see them unannounced. This is something I do because when it comes to publishing companies, you want to see the truth—not some staged event, with face employees coming and going.

I pulled up in front of their office building and studied the place. It was Class B office space, which is not necessarily a negative. If they had prime space, they’d pay top dollar. That would be pretty foolish.

I went into the lobby and found a guard standing between me and the elevators. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“Sure. I’m wondering what floor XYZ Publishing Company is on.”

“Uh, I’m sorry,” he replied, “but they left a while back, maybe a year ago. Maybe less. It’s hard to remember.”

“What?!” I said. “Did they leave a forwarding address?”

“I don’t know. You can check with the manager, down the hall on your right.”

I nodded and found the place, beelining for a receptionist. “Hi, ma’am. Can you tell me where XYZ Publishing Company moved to?”

She studied me. “No, I can’t. Sorry.”

“You don’t have a forwarding address?” I asked in my nicest voice.

A woman from a back office yelled out, “They didn’t leave one.”

I could tell they were not happy to hear the name of this past tenant, and certainly didn’t want to help me find them. I said my goodbyes and went back outside where I checked my iPhone. Had I made a mistake?

Sure enough, the address was gone on the website. I kicked myself, because websites have to be different for desktops versus mobile devices. They had changed their mobile website but not their desktop site. As I perused the site on my phone, I spotted a blog I hadn’t seen on the main website. It was the latest post on the site, and had been written about eight months earlier. In it, the company listed their employees, but didn’t give a way to contact them except by email. Sure enough, they were now operating commando style.

My client had a book that was very precious to him, with information that was seriously proprietary. His book was sure to be a big hit, so he wanted to make sure his copyrights were in a safe place. I smiled. I was going to have some fun with him.

When I emailed my report, it listed the above information with an additional kicker: “It’s obvious that this highly successful publishing company has downsized to no office. It’s also clear that these top book marketers have failed to list their new address on their website, and have not made blog entries for the last eight months. Without an office, I wonder what an author does when he or she is looking for that royalty check that hasn’t come in several months. Where does one go? It’s highly possible that XYZ Publishing Company is headed for bankruptcy. But that could be good news for people like me, who could bid on their various assets—like the rights to your book. In fact, I could own your book and thus, you. And trust me, I’ll be a good employer, someone who follows the current labor laws. In fact, you’ll like working for me. Really, it could be fun!”

Needless to say, he started to consider the unlikely prospect that I knew what I was talking about. With the changes and upheaval in the industry, publishing companies are going in and out of business before we can even get a project signed up. That’s why there are several solid options that experienced ghostwriters like me know about. More on this subject in Part Two. Stay tuned.

Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

How to Obtain Disney Licensing

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

I just completed a book that used some dialogue from The Lion King. This movie is Disney property—and very popular at that. Thus, we needed permission to use it. You would think it would be easy to find Disney’s licensing division, but it wasn’t. After some searching, though, I did find it. Here is the link you will need:  http://disneypermissions.force.com/WelcomeIntakePage

Please don’t use someone else’s work unless you have written permission. This may require a payment. It’s not usually too costly, but if you fail to get permission, the consequences can be expensive. And don’t think the “Fair Use” exception will save you. Do it right the first time and don’t worry after that!

Serif Fonts in Writing and Publishing

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

I love working with serif fonts. Yet, when I work with new authors, I often receive their content in sans serif font. “What is sans serif font?” you ask. An example of this is Arial: The brown fox jumped over a tree and turned red. Sans serif fonts have clean, straight strokes that are pleasing to the eye. However, there is more to the story.

Notice that the rest of this article is in Times New Roman—a favorite of mine. Why is this?

I have learned that our eyes need help. They love the tiny protrusions and lines sticking out from the stroke of a letter—the serifs. These extra bits are believed to have been invented by Roman carvers, who liked adding flair at the end of each letter. Others believe the protrusions helped neaten the lines as they were chiseled into the stone. Either way, we’ve become accustomed to seeing these serifs, because they help our eyes quickly pick up the letters. Since our eyes can handle large quantities of megapixels, the more information the better.

Most publishers (if not all) use serif fonts for the text. They’re just easier to read. However, the titles and front cover words are usually in sans serif font. Sans means “lacking,” so sans serif means “without serifs,” or lacking those tiny bits.

If you are going to become a skilled author, take the time to understand the font types so you can ensure your book has the proper one for both the cover design and interior content. When writing up rough drafts, it’s hard to beat Times New Roman—especially since the Romans invented it.

What’s a Ghost Writer?

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

Occasionally, I receive a call from someone asking if I investigate ghosts. Or they want to know if I write stories about ghosts. When I go to parties and meet new people, they seem confused when I tell them what I do. The fact is, folks just don’t know much about ghostwriters. So, I thought I’d take a blog post to explain all about ghostwriters and how they work.

Let’s say you want to prepare a large turkey dinner but don’t want to spend the time or hassle to do it. You go to a store or restaurant where they have the expertise and equipment to make a delicious dinner. You pay them for the cooked food, then take it home and heat it up. Same with running your car through a car wash, or hiring a company to cut your lawn. You could do all of that yourself, but your time’s valuable and certainly limited by all you have to do every day.

That’s where a ghostwriter comes in. I write your book for you and put your name on it—books like memoirs, fiction novels, branding books, life stories, or any other book the client wants written. If the client wants a business book or expert book, I write those too. I’ve worked on children’s books, pet books (which I really love), and self-help books. I get a lot of Christian projects too, so when I’m writing a Christian book, I’m actually a Holy Ghost Writer (feel free to laugh out loud at this point). Some ghostwriters draft business memos and letters for executives as well as government grants. I don’t do any of that work because I love to work on books. Just books.

Another question I’m always asked is the difference between a Ghost Writer and a Ghostwriter. When I started ghostwriting, I thought the proper spelling was “Ghost Writer.” Yet I’ve seen it written “Ghostwriter” many times. In looking through various dictionaries, it appears what I do for a living can be spelled either way: ghost writer or ghostwriter. The spelling I prefer is “Ghost Writer,” but feel free to spell it however you like.

So, next time you see the term ghost writer or ghostwriter, now you know how it works. And, of course, if you ever need one, please give me a call at 214-377-1125.

Proofreading Tips

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

Proofreading is a strange concept—at least to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something (like this blog) and been completely sure there were no mistakes. That means every comma was in its proper spot, all words spelled correctly, and zero grammar issues. Happy it’s perfect, I’ve sent it off and leaned back in my chair, confident that I’ve written great content.

Later—weeks or months—I’ll read it again and find several errors. Or worse, someone else reads it and finds those errors. Man, that’s frustrating!

What happened here was my mind played tricks on me. Because I wrote the content and studied it several times, my mind knows what I’m supposed to be reading. It corrects any mistakes I encounter and fills in gaps. Trust me, we all do it.

Over time, I’ve learned I need to hire a professional proofreader to review final versions of my books. There’s simply no way around it. Each time I do, the manuscript comes back marked up. Not once has it come back with no corrections. Yet hiring a professional proofreader can be expensive every time I write something—which is every day! So, what to do?

Most of the stuff I write is rough and not ready to publish. Plus, my clients want to make changes. With plenty of changes being made, there’s no sense in making sure every version of a chapter is perfect and ready to publish. This means I send out a lot of content that’s not been professionally proofread. (Actually, 95% of my work is not reviewed by a professional proofreader.) The problem for me is that clients don’t like to see a ton of mistakes in a rough draft. After many years of ghostwriting, I’ve come up with various tricks to help me find those errors and get me to a final manuscript that can be professionally proofread.

The first trick I use is adjusting the font size on my screen. By making each word larger, my brain sees the content differently and can often find those frustrating errors.

After I’ve used that trick, and usually during the final edit, I’ll print out each page and use a metal ruler to review it line by line. As I find mistakes, I’ll mark them up with a red pen and correct them later. This “paper” perspective is more like reading a paperback. It works.

Finally, to really change things up, I’ll take the last page of the book and proofread it. Then I work backwards by reviewing the preceding page and so on until I reach the first page. This catches even more errors.

Make no mistake: There’s no substitute for having another set of eyes look over your work. However, by using these three techniques, you can catch 97% of errors—and thus, make yourself and your client very happy.

Memoir Chapter 37

Biography of Dorothy Kunzweiler  – Based on a True Story (Printed with permission)

by Michael Gray ©  2004  http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

June 31, 1941 – Richmond, California

Jack, Dorothy and son David were soon settled into a two bedroom, one bathroom tract home in Richmond.  One block away resided Hattie and George Carpenter.  The Grays, tentative at first, began to become acquainted with George Carpenter.  He was a tough manager, a taskmaster accustomed to dealing with rough longshoremen and ship-builders.  Jack discovered that while the pay was adequate, his hours were from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.  He tried to remain open-minded and make the best of it, but he despised his new work schedule and quickly grew to hate the entire situation.

Jack was much more suited to working in an office environment.  This job entailed his presence aboard the ship itself, overseeing and scheduling the ironworker’s tasks.  Jack was not a mechanical person, preferring instead to coax one of his close friends to help with the manual labors around the house.  Anything was preferable to smashing his own thumb with a hammer or risking some other injury.  Weighing his salary against his schedule and the type of work, he pushed back his contempt for the job and went to work each night, even though he dreaded it.

Dorothy, on the other hand, had a different perspective.  She awoke every morning, just in time to see Jack drag his exhausted body in from work and head straight for bed.  He would scarcely acknowledge her presence, mumbling good morning or some such words to her, disrobe and fall into bed, sound asleep as soon as his head struck the pillow.  Dorothy covered him quietly, then did her best to keep David quiet throughout the morning.  Jack typically slept until around 4:00 p.m., at which time he dragged himself out of bed to join his small family for supper.  It was rough getting used to.

One morning, Dorothy stopped by the bank to withdraw some cash in order to stock up on groceries.  She noticed a sign posted outside the bank: “Help Wanted.”  Wanting to earn some extra money for the family, she impulsively filled out an application.  No sooner had she arrived home from shopping than the telephone ring.  It was the bank.  They wanted to hire her immediately.  In fact, they wanted her to start the very next day!  When Jack awoke at 4:00 p.m., she excitedly related the good news but he was still far too groggy to be aware of precisely what he was agreeing to.  Dorothy accepted the position and reported for work the next day.  She even arrived a half hour early so as to make a favorable first impression.

She discovered that with most of the men away preparing for war or working in the factories, the bank was staffed predominantly with female employees, providing her with more opportunities to make friends.  But there was the matter of providing for David’s care.  She could not count on Jack to watch over him because Jack slept during the day.  It was her mother who came up with the best solution.  Dorothy fed and dressed David in the morning prior to departing for the bank, then dropped him off for Hattie to watch.  On her way home, she retrieved him and brought him home.  Though this was a manageable plan, neither Dorothy nor Jack calculated the toll it would take on their marriage.

In actual practice, the plan was tougher.  When Jack awoke at 4:00 p.m., Dorothy was not yet home; it would be another few hours before she arrived.  Jack would read the now stale morning paper, awaiting Dorothy and David’s return.  Eventually he came to walk the one block and retrieve David himself from his mother-in-law.  Jack would then finish reading the paper and play with his son while both waited for Dorothy to come home.  Then, she and Jack visited while she prepared their supper.  A few short hours later Jack was off for work.  It was a difficult, trying time on all involved, but times were equally tough on all Americans.  This arrangement may explain in part why the young Catholic couple did not get pregnant with their second child for several years, during which time they drifted along in the uncomfortable lifestyle of shipbuilders in San Francisco.

Peanuts Cartoon Licensing

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

I just completed a book that used a Peanuts cartoon. This meant I needed to obtain permission to reprint the cartoon from the license holder. But first, I had to locate the license holder. And boy, it wasn’t easy.

After performing a Google search, my first stop led me to the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. After spending a few days sending them emails, I received a response that pointed me to several email addresses at Peanuts.com. I sent an email and received nothing back. Man, I just wanted someone to take my client’s money—please!

I sent several more emails and either received a wrong email address notice or no response. It was time to get tough.

Searching deeper, I discovered a company had recently purchased the rights to the Peanuts inventory. I sent them an email and hit pay dirt! They kindly informed me it would be $275, which my client paid. A day later, I received a hi-res version of the cartoon for the book along with the required permission disclaimers to be included on the copyright page. With that in hand, I asked for permission to write this blog and direct other writers to them. They wisely agreed.

So, here it is: Andrews McMeel Syndication, 816-581-7500. www.Amureprints.com

Good luck!

Pushing Up Tulips – By Harry Hollander

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

Here’s a new book I worked on that just came out. It’s a true story! I wanted to tell you about it (With my client’s permission!) Pushing Up Tulips by Harry Hollander. See the trailer:     https://youtu.be/9pc8OqPAsLg

Here’s the back cover:

The life of a simple flower bulb salesman from Holland—really, how exciting could it be? See for yourself as Harry Hollander takes you on an exhilarating, laugh-out-loud rollercoaster ride through the flower bulb industry—the shenanigans, the backstabbing, the police chases, and, of course, the money! It all starts at the incredibly beautiful tulip fields of Holland and the fascinating flower auctions at Aalsmeer. Then, fly with Harry to the States, the Middle East and Far East, Central and South America, Europe, and finally, the caladium fields in central Florida. Ride along with our hero as he desperately tries to outsmart his boss, fight off competitors, and run from the law, all while making a fortune!

So go on, grab Pushing up Tulips and get your hands dirty! You’ll never look at a flower bulb the same.

Why Do I Need an ISBN?

by Michael Gray   http://www.TexasGhostWriter.com  214-377-1125

An ISBN—or International Standard Book Number—has been used on books for years and years. Most of my clients ask me three questions: (1) Why do I need one? (2) What does it do? and, (3) Where do I get one? There’s a lot information I could give you about ISBNs—their history and changes—but really, it’s irrelevant to you. So let’s just answer your questions and move on.

(1) Why do I need an ISBN? Because every publishing company demands one. If you want to publish your book, you’re going to need one. If you want your book on bookshelves, you’re going to need one. And if you want to receive all the royalties you’re entitled to, you’re going to need one.

(2) What does an ISBN do? The 13-digit number on the back of every book—the black and white bar code—tracks each edition for sales, marketing, bestseller lists, shipping, and so on. It’s like a social security number for your book.

(3) Where do I get an ISBN? You have several options for getting your own ISBN. If your book is being published by a large New York publisher, they will assign one of their own to your book. If you’re going with an independent book publisher or self-publishing, there are two ways you can go. First, most publishers will sell you an ISBN for a low cost, some as low as $10. If not, you can buy them from over-the-counter companies that sell ISBNs. They will charge more than $10 and some will make you purchase multiple ISBNs even though you don’t need them. So, shop around.

 More stuff you need to know. Bookstores will not sell your book without an ISBN. eBooks don’t require an ISBN if you are selling it through your own website. But trust me, you want an ISBN for your eBook. Why? If you sell it through Kindle Direct Publishing, they don’t require it. But they can sell it through other channels and those channels require an ISBN. Without an ISBN, you can’t sell through these resellers. Since Kindle/Amazon charges $10 for one, don’t chintz. Just spend the money for an ISBN for your eBook. You want to eliminate all barriers to your book being sold. Having an ISBN for both your eBook and paperback is the smart thing to do.

Next, you cannot reuse your paperback’s ISBN for your eBook’s ISBN. Forget it!

Finally, if you have a hardback and a paperback, you will need to two ISBNs—three, if you have an eBook. So, buck up and get all the ISBNs you need and start selling your books everywhere. (And don’t worry about the technical stuff for ISBNs. You don’t need to know anymore than this!)

Happy publishing!