Cuckoo’s the right word.


We read a lot of UK news around here, so no surprise yesterday when The Sunday Times outted JK Rowling as new author “Robert Galbraith,” whose debut detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling went on sale in April.

It seems likely the publishing house was counting on Rowling being outted by an astute reviewer on day 1. Given the author was represented by JK Rowling’s agent, and the book was published by JK Rowling’s publisher and worked on by JK Rowling’s editor, then this first time, unknown author was hyped through the roof — even though this author makes no personal appearances, it’s hard to imagine no reviewer would connect the dots. But they didn’t.

Failing a reviewer discovery, the publisher probably assumed some reader would pick up on the true author’s identity in the early weeks. After all, there was Robert Galbraith’s the over-the-top backstory (typical of Harry Potter). The lead detective’s had a truly Potter-worthy name: Cormoran Strike (a take off on the Cormorant Strike military exercises). All of Rowling’s usual tropes –Latin, drug use, loathing of the middle class — were there. And, best for last, the completely Harry Potter style cover

But again, no reader caught on.

The problem with all this publisher-author strategizing was, of course, they forgot that people just want to read a good book. The reviewers and the public were willing to give a new author a chance. They were willing to extended the author and the publishing house trust. In return, both the author and the publisher had to accept the results — lackluster — at least for 90 days.

It’s understandable that a famous author wants to see if he/she really has star quality writing ability or if their first huge success was an unrepeatable one off. But actually trying to find out by writing a book under another name? That is a writer deeply insecure about her talent and / or ambivalent about her earlier success. That’s an author who needs therapy.

It’s also understandable that while publishers may believe in an author and his/her work (even when they veer off their previous genre), they do have to cave in to the weird demands of very famous authors now and then. This book, no doubt, represents such a case. But, publishers spend a lot of money producing a book. Like it or not, they need a book to make its production/advertising expenses back — and then some — to stay in business.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released April 30. Until yesterday, it had sold only 1400 copies (500 by some stats) and had mixed reviews. That’s just not good enough for a publishing house, especially as July 31st is coming up fast. After 3 months, the window starts closing fast on “new book” sales. A new book is fading out of public view. It’s got all the hype it’s going to get. Sales start going down hill fast unless there is genuine reader buzz.

Most publishers hope to make the bulk of their sales on a book by month 3. If there’s reader enthusiasm — a lot of word of mouth — by month 3 a book might start generating more sales than when it was initially released. These extended sales are great because it means an author can be built up. New books in the series are generally then ordered.

However, since sales weren’t very good and reviews mixed, Cuckoo wasn’t going any place fast, ie, a net loss for a publisher. This is not to say it was a bad book, but realistically as a book by a first time, unknown author, it wasn’t doing even ok as regards sales. People kind of liked it, but they weren’t spreading the word. Low book sales mean no request for further books in the series. Very likely, author and publisher would have parted ways.

But Cuckoo wasn’t by a true unknown, a first-time author, and the publisher had an out — doubtless one which Rowling had agreed to readily because she’d tried to flog it to other publishers and they all rejected it as not good enough. So she ended up back at her own publisher. The discussion probably went something like this: If Cuckoo’s sales don’t start to seriously uptick after the first 60 days, there will be an “anonymous” tip sent out hinting that JK Rowling is the book’s real author. And this is what happened.

One of The Sunday Times‘ columnists, India Knight, received an anonymous tip on Twitter saying the novel was actually by Rowling. The Tweeter’s account was then immediately deleted. This tip was followed up on, and confirmed, and . . . voila, sales rocketed the following day.

It’s almost certain the publisher, who wanted to make serious money from Cuckoo, is the “anonymous” source. Since the clueless reviewers/public didn’t figure out this book was actually the work of a “famous” writer, someone had to tell them — and get Rowling’s huge fan base out buying. And it needed to happen in the first 3 months, by July 31st. Why? Can you say “Annual Report,” “Fiscal Year,” or “Stock Dividends”?

There’s nothing illegal about any of this, but it’s all a bit silly and demeaning for an author of JK Rowling’s stature. And as for the publisher, well, a corporation does what corporations do to protect their bottom line and their brands. JK Rowling is a brand. A brand can’t put out a bad product (in this case a book). This is especially true as her first novel for adults Casual Vacancy wasn’t that well received. And by not well received, we mean didn’t go as big as Harry Potter. It was still a 3 out of 5 book that made huge sales.

JK Rowling herself seems to indicate complicity in the whole Cuckoo scheme. “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer,” she said. Clearly, she’d expected her true identity to be revealed, just not within 90 days. She perhaps hoped her book would get great buzz and sell magnificently on its own. At the same time, she seemed to accept that her publisher would exercise its option to out her and make serious money off this book (and any future series’ books), if it didn’t. This “revelation” protects Rowling’s brand and makes her a lot of money.

Should all this reflect badly on Rowling? Truthfully, publishing contracts probably make it extremely difficult for her to self-publish a book under another name and let the work stand on its own. If that was something she wanted to do. Was it? Maybe. One of the things Rowling said, in remarking on Cuckoo, was that she didn’t want to get a lot of hateful reviews again just because she was famous. In other words, she felt Casual Vacancy had been attacked unjustly because of her fame.

Ultimately, it’s readers who decide a book’s fate. If a book is not well received, that’s life. Authors must accept that. They can’t assign blame to the readers. Overall, the number of haters doesn’t outweigh the number of actual open-minded readers. A wildly successful, established author shouldn’t need to hide under various nom de plumes in a desperate desire to get what they believe is an authentic review.

If you are a famous author and you are publishing another book, in another genre, under another name, in order to get a good review because you believe people are out to get you and, apparently, any review that’s negative is from a hater and therefore inauthentic . . . well, that’s just a bit sad and rather paranoid sounding. But, that’s apparently what’s going on here from what the author herself has said.

This is why therapy is a good idea. JK Rowling is a good author. But she can’t own her own talent or fame. Authors have to own their writing, own the fact there are haters out there, and own the fact that they will never be liked by everybody. That’s the only way to have a sane life. If you can only stand to hear good things about your writing because you don’t fully believe in in your work — stop writing.

Rowling told the Times, “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.”

That really comes off as complete twaddle. The Cuckoo was totally hyped by the publishing house in a way no first-time unknown author’s book would be. And there were certainly expectations — by the publishing house, if not the author — that the book would sell and sell well. As for feedback? Apparently the mixed reviews of Cuckoo were expected — only this time she believed them. But those reviews still weren’t good enough to move the book, so her publisher outted her.

Translation: The book didn’t sell on the strength of the writing. It was an ok read but nothing so fantastic readers want to tell everyone it’s a can’t-put-down must-read. It was never going to be a best seller. However, sometimes audiences grow, especially over a few books in a series. Publishers often nurture new writers and allow time for this extended strategy to play out.

It’s sad that Rowling has no faith in the reading public. But her books do tend to reflect a pessimistic, even negative, outlook on people and life. What’s sadder still is that Rowling’s publisher didn’t have enough faith in her new book to let it run its course and allow it (and any future books of this series) to develop a following naturally.

One can only assume the publishers didn’t believe in Galbraith’s writing, or lost faith too soon when sales fell off, or, more realistically, that this is just everything going to (backup) plan: Let famous author do this, and 60 days in (if it’s not selling) reveal and make a killing. Win-win. Except for the readers who were duped.

Readers of Cuckoo were cuckolded. And it’s doubtful that title joke, played on the readers by Rowling (and her duplicitous publisher), was unintended. That Rowling still wonders why people write hateful reviews, especially after something like this, now there’s a mystery!

*For the record, Stephen King’s alter ego had no problem moving books — for years. We like JK Rowling and her books (the Potter series) a lot, but at some point an author has to accept books don’t sell well because of the writing, not the readers.*

The tab button is not your friend

3 Things your PDF eBook should have:

  1. TOC, bookmarked to chapters so people can navigate it quickly.
  2. A good cover which you can do yourself create cheaply with images from photostock places. Text boxes that will fit into the display window of  e-readers easily.
  3. Page numbers (because otherwise it’s hard to remember where you were or discuss the book with a friend).

1 Thing your PDF doesn’t need: Headers. Headers, as you’d find in a traditional book, or even a PDF, with book/author name? Don’t need those.

Other things to know

Some people find a lot wrong with their PDF after they convert it. Always read through your PDF after conversion. Weird stuff can happen. Usually it is something that you did — unintentionally — because you live in a WYSIWYG world.

The biggest complaint about conversions is paragraph indents. You cannot use the tab button for making paragraph indents. You must use the hanging indent.  This may mean you have to spend a day, or two, going through your book removing tabs. It sucks, but you have to do it.

If you decided you wanted some fancy design that required tabbing . . . you need to go back and set it up with an indent so that the item you tabbed to the far end of the page, now occurs naturally where you want it placed

Another complaint is usually formatted text.  Check to see if your bold/ital/etc is there. If not, did you embed?

You really shouldn’t have any issues with your quote marks.  But check them all the same.

Make sure you have your metadata sorted. Metadata is where you put in the name of your book, author, etc.

And your security (DRM is Digital Rights Management).  Some people like to lock up their PDF so it can’t be copied or printed out — hey, why make it easy to steal?

Reads some PDF Books  If you haven’t read a PDF book, you need to.  Download the free Adobe Digital Editions and then download some free books in PDF  ( or from ADE library).

The download some ePub versions. Look at the PDFs vs the ePubs.  See what qualities and features they have.

You put a lot of work into your book, you want it to stand a chance. Make your PDF the best it can be.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 7:07 AM  Leave a Comment  
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More on PDF conversions

Text   All this changing of the Page Set Up doesn’t mean you should change your text size (unless you’re using something like a 10pt or smaller somewhere in the text).  Using a 12pt Times New Roman throughout is probably for the best. We say this only because it’s large enough that people of many visual abilities can read it.  Some people prefer non-serif fonts, we don’t. But if you gotta have it, make sure it’s 12 pt.

Fonts  If you love your font selections, that’s ok. But you need to make sure they travel with the PDF. That sounds strange, but think of your PDF as a little troop of performers.

They can only perform if they have their equipment with them. They may find some equipment where they’re going, but maybe not everything they need to finish the play. So you have to embed that equipment (in this case fonts) in the coatpockets of your players so at the right time, they can whip out the bold or the ital or the Baskerville Gothic.

Most people can make a PDF, but don’t understand how to make to a PDF with embedded fonts. So, the short version is create a PostScript the file first, then open the Acrobat Distiller, then choose open on the Distiller’s drop down menu, and choose the PS file. At that point the PS file converts to a PDF with embedded fonts and you can check that by opening the file in Acrobat and going to Properties.

If you do know how to embed fonts, great, do what you want.  If you’re kind of confused, leave a comment.

With a PDF, it is what it is. Your readers get some of the experience of the physical book because you can duplicate the typography in a PDF. Many eReaders today can change a books font, or allow it to be changeable, but they can’t do that with a PDF on an eReader.  So: It is, what it is.

You want to be sure that you have your PDF version set up to be either a) as useable as possible for E-readers, or b) exactly as you want it in your book, because you’re using it more to send around as a “Galley” version / review copy of a print book that’s coming out soon.

Marketing   People with Nooks and Kindles  and iPads can read PDF version documents.  But, they have to hear about your book before they go to your website and download it.  Since you can’t market your PDF versions on B&N or Amazon or iBooks platforms without converting them to proprietary formats first,  . . . . .

This is the downside of PDFs.

As for somewhere like Google Books? We’ve never put a book on GoogleBooks as for sale Ebook, but we do think it’s possible to do.  And too, possibly, you can have them create a hard copy for sale as well.

More on PDFs tomorrow.

Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 7:07 AM  Leave a Comment  
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PDFs as eBooks that won’t make eReaders weep

PDF Page set up    If you are going with PDF, you will need to reformat your book so that the pages are small.  The average eReader screen size is something you need to focus on.  If the display is 6″ wide, you cannot have your static PDF text running at a width of 6.5″ with additional white margins!

In the example we showed you Friday, the PDF was created on 8 x 11 pages, but the text box itself is only 4.75 inches wide and 8 inches long (including the header).  In other words, it was created to become a 6 x9 Trade paperback.

This is why, once you manipulate our PDF slightly in Adobe Digital Editions, it’s easy to read.  It’s just like reading the book version, because it is the book version.  And in fact, you and could read it, with friends at a book club, on readers or in hardcopy and be seeing the same thing with the same pages.

But to be honest, it could have been even better, ie easier for eReader users, if we’d simply made set the page set up for the PDF to custom, and set the text box on a page size that smaller to begin with, to match the size of the reader screen.

It’s something we’ll fix this time around simply because it’s easy to do, even in InDesign!

If you have your text set up on the custom paper size, and that size is smaller than a screen display (6″ wide), with it a tiny margin all around .25″ (it’s probably more like 50 pixels), then your resulting text boxes will fit into an eReader and display well without any manipulation once your text has been PDF’d.

In our case, we’d probably want to set the page size to w 5.25″ by h 7.75″  (A kindle DX display is 5 3/8 x 7 7/8). As it stands, our text box at 4.75″ w is fine, but it needs to be reduced to 7.25 in height.  This will create more pages in the final PDF, and a different numbering than the hardcopy edition, but a better eReader experience for anyone using a Kindle DX or iPad.

Remember, once it’s PDF’d there’s no going back, no one can manipulate it very much. So if the E-reader can’t present it in a readable fashion . . . your book won’t get read.

More on PDFs, tomorrow.

Text   This doesn’t mean you should change your text size (unless you’re using something like a 10pt).  Using a 12pt Times New Roman throughout is probably for the best (although some people prefer non-serif fonts).  Because it’s large enough that people of many visual abilities can read it.

If you love your font selections, that’s ok too. But you need to make sure they travel with the PDF (think embedded journalist, traveling with troops).  Most people don’t understand how to convert to a PDF with embedded fonts (that would be, PostScript the file first, then open the Acrobat Distiller then choose open and select the PS file, at which point it converts to a PDF with embedded fonts). If you do know this, great, do what you want.

With a PDF, it is what it is. Your readers get some of the experience of the physical book because you can duplicate the typography. Many eReaders change the font, or allow it to be changeable, but you can’t do that with a PDF on an eReader. It is, what it is.

You want to be sure that you have your PDF version set up to be either a) as useable as possible, or b) exactly as you want it in your book, but you’re ok with that because you’re using it more to send around as a “Galley” version / review copy of a print book that’s coming out soon.

Marketing   People with Nooks and Kindles  and iPads can read PDF version documents.  But, people have to hear about your book before they go to your website and download it.  Since you can’t market your PDF versions on B&N or Amazon or iBooks platforms without converting them to proprietary formats first,  . . . . .

Things your PDF eBook should have: TOC, bookmarked to chapters so people can navigate it quickly. A good cover which you can do yourself create cheaply with images from photostock places. Text boxes that will fit into the display window of  e-readers easily. Page numbers (because otherwise it’s hard to remember where you were or discuss the book with a friend).

Things you don’t really need: Headers. Headers, as you’d find in a traditional book, or even a PDF, with book/author name? Don’t need those.

Which button makes it work? Help me!

Ok, you have a book.  Let’s call it a text of a book, because that’s what you’ve really created, a text.

Now you have to decide in which format you want to distribute it: PDF, ePub, Nook, Kindle.

You can release your finished book in all these ways if you want, and you probably should.  Don’t limit your market!

In terms of easy to do, a PDF conversion is easiest. Format your book very simply, with page numbers and headers, in a standard readable font, and convert. It doesn’t have to be more complex than this, but you could bookmark the TOC to the chapters to make navigation easy, and you could slap a cover JPG on it. You can then check your creation using free Adobe Digital Editions software on your computer (PC or Mac)

Many people use this option because they have worked with Acrobat.  No access to Acrobat? Search around the Adobe site. It usually allows you to do some free conversions as a sample.  Mac users have a built in PDF creator, but the Mac PDF created isn’t always stable on all platforms. So be aware if you choose to go that route.

The PDF advantages are . . . you can read them on your computer and distribute them around to reviewers who can then see your book as it will look when printed.  The PDF creates a version that maintains your formatting. They can be read on devices such a iPads, which are slightly larger page size.

PDF disadvantages . . . if you do a straight book to ebook conversion and look at it on your ADE, you’ll see the problem immediately.  The white page margins are always there. Even when you shrink it down.  If you go up and select READING, and from the dropdown menu choose Custom Fit, then adjust it 174%, and fit the reader window directly over the text, you’ll see what it’s like trying to read your book on an iPad. It’ll look a lot like this

The problem with simply converting your book formatted text to a PDF (if you aren’t going to make a printed book, and these aren’t review copies), is that PDF formatting is static. You can make it smaller or bigger.  But it’s difficult.  It also becomes totally unreadable on any small eReader or iPhone.

So, when considering a PDF, which can be a great format for people who read on a laptop, or iPad, or when sending out review copies of a book that will be coming out in print (and so you want to show reviewers what it actually looks like), a text formatted into a book configuration and then PDF’d can be a good thing.

However, if you are shooting for an eReader market, you have to make it eReader friendly. So, our tip for when you absolutely positively are going to go PDF, but want the widest possible audience?  Check back Tuesday.

Loose Fantasies — just when you think it’s all over, it all starts all over again!

Today if all went well, our new book, the last of the Lennox series, Loose Fantasies  The Memoirs, comes out. If it didn’t  . . . oh wait, it kinda didn’t. We had a little text hiccup.  About 3 paragraphs went astray, so we have to herd them back in.

Notice our lack of upsetment?

People tend to think that printing this book is the end. As if!  It’s usually after you print it that you actually see problems. And so it is with this book. But we go with the Guy Kawasaki method, ie, go ahead and roll it out. It has to happen sometime. Even if it has flaws, you can fix them. If you wait for perfection, you’ll never get it out, or published, or done, or whatever.  So, at this point . . . .

The last book of this series is out, it does have some typos, but is it enjoyable anyway, you bet.  Still, we do care, so we are going to be doing a new round of editing on all 6 volumes in Sept, starting with book 1, and rolling the whole series out through B&N PubIt! (the ebook creation tool they use) for Nook.  We’ll also be taking a crack at turning them into Kindling (Kindle format?). If all goes well, the ebooks set will be up and out in time to take with on your Thanksgiving journey.

Nook and Kindle is something we’ve never done before, although all our books are in an ePub ebook format and available through Adobe Digital Editions. One of the downsides of the PDF format is its static. It doesn’t work well on readers.  And too, Amazon will only sell its Kindle format, ditto Nook, so we felt we needed to tackle this issue.  If you’re following along for the month of September, expect to read an endless stream on this topic and its related issues.  If you’ve been thinking of setting up with Nook/Kindle, it might do you well.

We’ll get around to upgrading the print/PDF versions to match the newer Kindle/Nook versions in a bit, but it’s not like it’s going to make a huge difference to the read. These won’t be major story edits. In other words, these remain the same leisurely, intimate family drama / romance / travel mysteries, you’ve all come to know and love.

In the meanwhile, we’ll also be going through a general round of “end of book” things . .  . the copyright process (all done online thank heaven!), and the mailing out of complimentary copies, and copies to the Library of Congress copyright office.

There’s also all the updating and adding on to do to the FAB website, and Bowker, and Google books. And even before we finish that,  we may have some other books by other authors will be in the pipeline. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe. (People doing marketing probably know this, but you may not, ARCs went out months ago.  An ARC is an Advanced Review Copy.)

The upshot is, if you do decide to become a publisher, you probably won’t get everything right the first go round, even if you do hire a great copy editor, proofreader, designer, media person.  But it’ll still all be ok. Hang in there. You’ll get another chance, and another, and another.  And if you went with LSI cover corrections and text block correction are only $40. Practically guilt free.  Sure some people may snicker, but so what.

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus . . . whose got the last laugh now?

An interesting post by Amanda Hocking – who sold way over 1 million e books, herself

If you’re over 30, or don’t have teenage kids, your probably don’t know Amanda Hocking. She writes paranormal romance for YA (young adults) — read vampire, werewolf, witch etc, for teenagers.

She’s sold over a million ebooks on Amazon (at 99 cents each) and recently signed a deal with St Martin.  Back on Aug 27, 2010, she wrote a blogpost: “An epic tale on how it all happened.” Everyone that wants to be a writer should read it. It’s brutally honest.

Not only will it teach you how to pick a topic and write a book that will sell (it’s called being on trend),  it will teach you a great deal about how out of sync publishing houses, and literary agents, often are when it comes to the reality of markets and sales. Amanda had publishers calling her to make deals, and still couldn’t get an agent to respond!

In addition, it tells you what you as an author will probably need to do to become known and sell books. And shows you the example on the blog. That is, the blog, the tweeting, etc, etc, etc . . . . Amanda does it all with style and grace.

Don’t be torn about what to do in order to succeed, just do what the crows do.  Find a bird that looks glossy and sleek, who obviously knows how survive and thrive, and follow its lead.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 7:08 AM  Leave a Comment  
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