If you’ve decide to go with a blog . . . Why WordPress is a writer’s best friend — how to make your best stuff even better

Blog posts represent your talent and marketing abilities to large, established agents and publishers, who are more risk averse because generally they’re going to make a bigger investment in your career than a smaller publisher. If you’re set on fame and fortune and the bright lights of HarperCollins or its ilk . . . having a blog is a huge plus.

Well-known authors don’t really need a blog. New authors seeking attention from the big guys, really do. We at FAB read some websites regularly, and guess what, we’d probably publish those people if they sent us a query and a work that fit our parameters. Large publishers do the same. As do agents.

We recommend WordPress for a variety of reasons, but not least because it’s so versatile. There’s a loads of themes to choose from and for a little extra money ($30 a year) you can really go to town and make it your own — which we highly, highly recommend. Easy to use, easy to set up and integrate with other social media, easy to switch around until you find your “it look” that drives up more traffic, WP is “da bomb” as one of our less trendy associate’s (Oz!) likes to say.

Blogs are good for other reasons too. Even if you’re having an awful writing day when it comes to your book, you can look at your blog and remind yourself that every time you blog (or tweet, or facebook), you’re adding to your book’s marketing campaign and your showing potential agents/publishers that you will put out the effort it takes to make sales.

Some things you may need to keep in mind with your blog, is your book’s target buyers. You should be writing in a style that they can expect to read more of if they buy the book. If that swearing is part and parcel of your style, and in your book, stick with it on the blog. The worst thing you can do to a reader is give them something the didn’t expect — in a bad way. As long as your honest about your writing, it’s ok.

Ditto the content.  Think more critically about your blog/tweet/facebook posting because at certain point, particularly with blogs, you can end up spending time and effort just giving away future saleable content. Every author has to decide, based on what’s actually going into her/his book, where that point is but publishers aren’t interested in trying to sell content you’ve already given away.

When we at FAB, as publishers, look at posts we really enjoy, we tend to think:

“OK, proven writing ability, strong marketer, good concept! But what’s going into the book that isn’t on the blog? Will it be more great stuff like this, woven together to make a great magic carpet ride for the reader? Or are we reading all the best stuff? Is there more better stuff?  Will webe thinking “the best stuff on earth just keeps getting better” when we see the manuscript? Or will we be thinking, we’ve already read this stuff, or, worse, this wasn’t at all the stuff we were expecting based on the marketing campaign (ie, the blog).”

All these might be questions to ask before hitting “publish” on a blog.  On a WordPress blog.

And ok, for pete’s sake, use a blog publishers can actually read, something like Manifest, or Twenty-Ten.  Nothing turns off people who are there to read faster than black/grey/grungy overdone blogs. We mean it. They’re hard to read, clunky, depressing, ugly and in general tell people who love to read “don’t read this.”  If we see a big black header, on drab blog, with little non-serif thin grey type, on a blue  grey background, we get eyestrain in 1 post, and guess what? We won’t read anymore and you loose your opportunity.

Koi is a nice theme, it’s just not professional unless you write about something Asian themed. But the overall type and layout are good and if you change the background, it can work.  Twenty-eleven is a good theme, but it has a hard to read (ie, non serif) font (which you could customize into serif with an upgrade). Chateau could work, but not if you choose black as the background and load it with widgets. Matala is readable, but screams childrens books, comedy, or travel writer.  Whimsy is good, silly is bad. Matala is whimsy.

We use Quentin for this blog, but it has been retired. For something like it, see Elegant Grunge (if you choose this, customize it!). The things you want in a blog theme are easy to read font (usually black type in a serif font in a point size, say 10+), on a white or light background (that isn’t in a grey hue), where the posts are to the left (if you opt for 2 columns or more).  The first thing people who read left to right want to see, is the posts you want them to read. If we see a bunch of left-side widgets . . . click, we go to the next blog.

You are showcasing your writing. If the thing you see first when the page come us is something other than clear, clean, easy to read dark text on a pale neutral or white background, some readers (read publishers) don’t bother. We’re one of them.  But we also want to see your personality, so get the upgrade and personalize the theme even if it’s just in some minor way such as changing the color of your type or its style.

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A word on copyright, you need it, you want it, you have to have it, — but it doesn’t really do you much good

If you read yesterday’s post, you’re probably beginning to wonder about copyright. The truth is IP/copyright laws are way too confusing for artists to understand. And even if creative types understood them, they’re way, way behind the times (and a lot of countries ignore them completely). Even “IP and copyright law For Dummies” wouldn’t help at this point.  Although we wish there were such a book!

Take this for example “Luv Hurtz” by the renowned American artist Wayne White.

In the world of copyright, this should be a derivative work because he took someone else’s painting (or a print thereof usually, which is still under copyright, because the artist is still alive), and painted on it (the coloful words). This is what Wayne White does. It’s his trademark work and it’s brilliant. He added something to the work, so it’s original. But it’s also derivative and infringing and that’s the sort of thing that freaks copyright attorneys.

In the world of music, sampling is a similar situation.  Sampling pushed the question of what is original in the same way.  If you sample a few chords and stick it into your song, how is that different than adding to the painting?  Apparently the music industry has gone overboard though.  Justifiably protecting copyrighted music has turned into . . . something way different.  Just read Chris O’Neal’s Feb 24, 2011 article in the Ventura ReporterSound of Silence about  how music protection has turned into a protection racket in one small California city. It will make you sick.

Not enough? Check out a recent NPR broadcast on Patents: When Patents Attack by Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell. It’s as much a comment on American business and venture capitalism as it is how terribly wrong law has gone, to the point it’s killing off innovation and innovators.

As for books, unfortunately, it’s the same story. Writing fan fiction, is derivative.  You are using the author’s characters to make a new work.  On the other hand, creating an encyclopedia of all the characters that turn up on Star Trek, or in Lord of The Rings, isn’t. That’s an original work. But does any of that matter if your entire book is going to be on bit.torrent for free within hours of being published and probably translated into other languages and sold without your knowledge?

Sorry, readers, and writers, creators of any kind, as long as Congress allows companies to hide behind internet neutrality, and legally sponsor the theft of IP, of any sort, copyright protection will remain a joke for the 99% of creative people that don’t understand it well to begin with and don’t have millions of dollars to spend on pursuing protracted court fights and ongoing global legal representation. Let’s face if Apple can’t quash IP / Copyright issues . . .

JK Rowling and her lawyers seem to understand all this.

We’ve always presumed Potter books were never going to be released in e-book versions till the markets were already fully book saturated. This was part of what we presume was a viable legal strategy. It’s been easy for Rowling’s legal team to sue every ebook version that turned up around the globe until now, because no legal ebook versions existed. It didn’t stop all theft, but, it preserved the protection of copyright and a chunk of the clearly foreseeable ebook profits.

And too, while no one here is a copy-leftist, the only thing worse than copyright infringement for an author/artist, is total obscurity. Marketing people, as well as creative types, know this. It’s why Rowling and her lawyers seem to be so nice to fans about their derivative works, even commercially viable derivatives, like t-shirts and such. In the end, these things are thought to do Rowling, the publisher / movie media team more good — increase legal sales of her work — than harm.

But then again, that’s how big a name you have to be to get even the smallest amount of protection. Sad, isn’t it?

Sincere regrets to any lawyers reading this blog. We are not encouraging any type of infringement, merely stating the reality.  As an author, you want your book copyright protected, but that protection, even the meaning of protection, in today’s publishing world, is a little sketchy.

Get your book published, or better yet, get it stolen and then get it published

Ok, as you all know we at FAB don’t go in for certain genres (ie, obscene language as humor), but we know you all have hear of the book we’re going to talk about: the adult “children’s” book Go the …. to Sleep.

What you may not know, and might be encouraged to learn, is that this book was made into a bestseller only because so many people stole it. That’s right, people . . . people who love people . . . were emailing a PDF version of the book around (breaking the copyright) before the book was even released. Google the book and you’ll see the first thing that comes up is a pirate version PDF, not an Amazon link. And the second thing is the Samuel L. Jackson audio reading of the book (also free).

Without copyright infringement, it’s doubtful this book ever would have found major success, and Adam Mansbach admits that in a recent (06/16/11) CNET article by  Rafe Needleman. Every author should read Adam’s comments on piracy  (ditto anyone interested copyright law or publishing).

Adam actually raises a whole host of good points every author should think about.  Such as the benefits of see it free first (in other words, just how you’d see the whole thing if there were still bookstores around), and how larger publishing houses are often the least up on social media, or trends, or even how to use new media effectively. One publisher told Mansbach he need to write a blog “three times a week,” to support his work.

Something that really struck us about the article was Adam’s comment that he wanted to be an author, not an industry.  Most major publishing houses want to turn an author into an industry. Most authors just want to write. If you’re a writer, you should stop and think about this because how you feel about what you do, will probably have a big impact on whether you want to publish with big house or a small press (which will also impact your profits).

As for publishers, or would be publishers, there’s good nuggets in the CNET article for you as well, but we’re reposting this CNN article in addition because we want you to note in the following story of how difficult it sometimes is for a small publisher to manage a huge success (something big houses do well — which is why once JK Rowling’s book caught on, her small publisher took the substantial buy-out by a larger publisher, and let JK and the big pubs take care of business in global fashion).

Go The F@K To Sleep Publisher Gets Big Boost
Book Set For Wide Release

By Dina Santorelli, contributing writer

Posted: 10:08 am CDT June 8, 2011Updated: 10:20 am CDT June 8, 2011

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Johnny Temple, publisher and founder of Brooklyn-based Akashic Books, likes to say this about independent book publishing:  ”Just keep your doors open for business, and then one day lightning will strike.”

Cue lightning.

Next week, Akashic plans to publish the most irreverent ”children’s” book in recent memory.

Written in the style of a children’s book, ”Go the F to Sleep” unabashingly drops the F-bomb in the text.

The book, written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, originally was slated for a fall release. Then the PDF version of the book hit the Internet and went viral. As a result, Akashic is moving up its release date, for both the print book and ebook, to June 14. The film rights already have been sold to Fox 2000.

The popularity of the book has raised the profile of Akashic and is likely to raise its profits.

”Go the F to Sleep” is actually a book for adults that deals with the age-old problem of trying to get children to go to sleep.

”It was very evident to me that the book was addressing with humor what is perhaps the core psychological hurdle of parenthood in the early years,” said Temple, whose own children are ages 3 and 5. ”Lack of sleep breaks up marriages.”

Temple previously worked with Mansbach on an anthology. The author had written other books, which included bestseller ”Angry Black White Boy,” published by Three Rivers Press in 2005.

Mansbach brought the idea to Temple, believing he would be willing to take on the project, despite its controversial title.

”I’ve published some very edgy novels with some big publishers, but I think that’s the exception,” said Mansbach. “Small presses are more willing to take some risks.”

Temple indeed agreed to publish it. Akashic, which publishes 25 to 30 titles per year, was the first — and only — publisher who got a glimpse of the ”Go the F to Sleep” manuscript.

Temple did no promotion for it other than to book sellers and other retail avenues. Not long after, a version of the book appeared on the Internet after an author reading in Philadelphia in late April.

”It was probably accidentally leaked by a bookseller who we had sent a PDF to,” said Temple.

Preorders for the book on Amazon sent it flying up its bestseller’s list. Akashic is one of only a few independent publishers to get a book to hit No. 1 on the e-commerce site.

It would seem that the book going viral would be a detriment to book sales. But the extraordinary success of ”Go the F to Sleep” — whose print edition, at press time, was in its 44th day in Amazon’s Top 100 — perhaps proves that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay for the cow even though they could have gotten the milk for free.

Temple takes a rather ambivalent stance on the leak. ”Obviously, if I’m running a business, I want to stay in business,” he said, ”but I believe very strongly in an expansive public domain. We want to allow parents to continue enjoying the book the way they’ve been enjoying it and not really tamper with that too much.”

Originally a rock musician by trade, Temple founded Akashic in 1997 as a ”hobby” with two musician friends (who left the company early on) and an initial investment of $70,000. Since 2002, when Akashic became Temple’s main pursuit, the company has found a well-defined, and well-respected, niche as a place for urban literary fiction. Financially, though, the company has only managed to break even, with annual revenues ranging between $750,000 and $1 million.

Until now.

At press time, the first printing of ”Go the F to Sleep” had been upped to 275,000 copies — by far, Akashic’s biggest to date. The company’s average first print run is between 4,000 and 6,000 copies.

”We could easily be printing up 350,000, but I just want to manage this very carefully,” said Temple, sounding a bit like a guy who has just won the lottery, but is reluctant to quit his day job. ”Once you expand, it’s very hard to contract.”

Temple credits Akashic’s longevity to ”consistently good books, creative low-budget marketing, and careful financial management.”

That being said, he is not about to let a runaway hit derail a management style that has kept his small press’ doors open for the past 14 years.

Independent publishers can actually be hurt by such successes, because they do not have the infrastructure to support the demand, he said.

”We have a sensation and a phenomenon on our hands, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he added. ”I’m being very cautious about what we do with our success and how we manage it.”

Just in case lightning strikes again.

Copyright CNN 2011