Aug 182011

At Quill Driver Books we put a lot of thought into the pricing of each title we published.

Here is an abbreviated list of things we considered:

• How big we anticipated the market for the title would be. A small, concentrated market may support a higher price because there are fewer books for those who are in this market to choose from. Large general markets may require a competitive price.

• The buyer demographics: Is this book for poor, starving writers or successful business people?

• How are competing titles priced? The last thing we wanted to do was to compete on price, but we knew the retailers were sensitive to pricing and might not stock a book they felt was overpriced.

• What the demand for the book would be. We felt we could get a couple of extra bucks for a book written by an author with a huge platform. Duh.

• What it cost us to print the book.

With all these factors—and more—to consider, we likely missed the optimum price, that is, the price that would return the largest profit to us. This price is often called the “sweet spot.”

For instance, if we priced a book so we netted $3 on each copy and sold 10,000 copies, we would make $30,000. But, if we priced it with $6 in it for us and sold 40 percent less, or 6,000 copies, we would make $36,000, a 20 percent increase in profit. Of course if the price that returned $6 each cut our sales to 3,000 copies we would make only $18,000.

Until a title sold down and we went back to press on it, we were stuck with the price we set since it was printed on the back cover.

I say, we “likely” missed the optimum price because, how could we ever know unless we published the identical book at different prices in identical parallel universes?

You can see why we gave it so much thought.

Enter E-Books

One grand thing about e-books is, since there is no printing involved, once edited, designed, typeset, and formatted, the cost of an e-book is zero. Another is that the retail price a publisher sets can vary day to day.

But, with these two advantages, what does a publisher need to be concerned about when pricing an e-book? Vook, the innovative company that melds books with video, has issued a splendid white paper that goes a long way toward answering this question. I’ll let you in on what it has to say in an upcoming blog.

Clever, Clever

Crown Publishing is rushing out a $.99 e-book on Rick Perry, the latest candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. The book is actually one chapter from The Victory Lab a fall 2011 release by Sasha Issenberg. According to Crown, Victory will present a broad coverage of electoral strategies and the motivations behind the voting decisions people make and isn’t solely about Perry. This is doubly clever, because the $.99 book will sell on its own and act as an ad for the whole book. Why not consider doing this with a chapter of one of your books? If you’re an author, suggest this to your publisher.

Just a write thought.

Jul 172011

Under the category of “Beware What You Wish For” comes this author-centric video in which the plot device is the plot device.

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.

That was worth nine minutes, wasn’t it?
I first saw this on Kristin, the polite agent’s, blog: Pub Rants.
BTW, polite literary agents abound, it just seems otherwise since the self-impressed ones make so much noise.

Just a write thought.

Jul 102011

Burke's writing is as rich and multihued as a Louisiana bayou.

I’m a fan of James Lee Burke. I thought I’d read every Dave Robicheaux novel he’s written, but just yesterday I found a jacket-less hard cover copy of Crusader’s Cross mixed in with books I’d picked up somewhere and had been meaning to get to. It was like opening a discarded wallet and finding a hundred dollar bill.

Burke is strong on imagery and thrifty on words.

Here, in Cross, is how he tells us what  Dave Robicheaux and his brother Jimmie’s childhoods were like:

Before breakfast, my mother would return from the barn smelling of manure and horse sweat, a pail of frothy milk in one hand and an armful of brown eggs smeared with chickenshit clutched against her chest. Then she would pull off her shirt, scrub her hands and arms with Lava soap under the pump in the sink, and in her bra fill our bowls with cush-cush and make ham-and-onion sandwiches for our lunches.

Jimmie and I both had paper routes in New Iberia’s red-light district. We set pins in the bowling alley and with our mother washed bottles in the Tabasco factory on the bayou. My father hand-built the home we lived in, notching and pegging the oak beams with such seamless craftsmanship that it survived the full brunt of a half dozen hurricanes with no structural damage. My mother ironed clothes in a laundry nine hours a day in hundred-and-ten-degree heat. She scalded and picked chickens for five cents apiece in our backyard, and secretly saved money in a coffee can for two years in order to buy an electric ice grinder and start a snowball concession at the minor league baseball park.

Our parents were illiterate and barely spoke English, but they were among the most brave and resourceful people I ever knew. Neither of them would consciously set about to do wrong. But they destroyed one another just the same—my father with his alcoholism, my mother with her lust and insatiable need for male attention. Then they destroyed their self-respect, their family, and their home. They did all this with the innocence of people who had never been farther away from their Cajun world than their weekend honeymoon trip to New Orleans.

In three short, image-filled paragraphs Burke shows us, rather than tells us, his family was poor, hardworking, and dysfunctional.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, Burke’s frugal yet rich style is worth emulating.

Just a write thought.


Jun 282011

I’m working on the second edition of my book, The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal. It’ll be published in the spring of 2012. Here’s a sidebar I’m thinking of including.

Authors Need Platforms

Attendees at writer’s conferences often hear that agents and editors want authors with a  “platform.”

Basically, a platform is whatever an author can bring to the table that will help market the author’s books.

This platform may include being elected to the Senate or hosting a national TV show. Authorship of a column is often a good platform. The column by Peter H. Gott, M.D. appears daily in 350 newspapers. When he mentions one of his books in the column, sales soar.

Being famous is a platform in itself. When we contracted with Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer to publish Dr. Ruth’s Sex After 50, we knew Dr. Ruth’s international celebrity status would help sell the book.

Unfortunately few of us are Senators, host TV shows, are internationally famous, or write syndicated columns. But we can do things such as developing a hefty schedule of speaking engagements—even if only in our local geographical area—or establishing ourselves as an authority in a particular industry by writing for trade periodicals and presenting at conferences. One of the easiest things to do is to create a noted online presence.

For help in that last part, read Stephanie Chandler’s The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform: Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books. The ideas in John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book will also help you establish a platform.

If you’re thinking of publishing a book and you don’t have a platform already, start building yours today. If you do have one, see what you can do to enhance it.

Just a write thought.

Jun 242011

June issue

I don’t subscribe to Vanity Fair, but, like with the New Yorker (To which I also don’t subscribe; I quit my subscription as a minor vice on which I both spent too much time and felt guilty for not spending more—the darn thing comes weekly!), whenever I crack the cover, I find remarkable writing.

It was no different when a friend loaned (or is it “lent”) me the June issue of Vanity Fair. Christopher Hitchens, who has spent the past year “living dyingly,” has written an intimate piece that is at once poignant journal, great writing, and solid writing advice.

To set the stage, Hitchens, who has written critiques for a number of magazines and is known for his controversial and confrontational debating style, opens with a few lines of T.S, Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

I have seen the moment of my greatness

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold
my coat, and snicker.

And in short, I was afraid.

Hitchens’ says he doesn’t “so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.”

The snickering of “a teasing special of the day, or a flavor of the month. It might be random sores and ulcers, on the tongue or in the mouth. Or why not a touch of peripheral neuropathy, involving numb and chilly feet?”

An atheist—he prefers the term “antitheist”—Hitchens likens the effects of his cancer to the wooden-legged piglet that belonged to a “sadistically sentimental family that could bear to eat him only a chunk at a time.”

The latest chunk to be devoured was his voice. Literally. The cancer, in attacking his vocal cords, struck him dumb, “like a silly cat that had abruptly lost its meow.”

Hitchens says he owes a “vast debt” (I’m quoting a “vast” bit from the article because I so enjoy Hitchens’ exacting word choices. A level to which all of we-who-write should so aspire.) to an early critic who advised he should write “more like the way that you talk.”

I remember a 1960s high school English class where we were taught to take the “I” out of our essays. I guess we were being taught to emulate the mind-numbing high school text books they issued us.

IMHO, in everything you write, write like you are in the room with the reader discussing a subject you are passionate about. Let the “you” come through. Your opinions, your views, your biases (okay, keep your biases out of straight journalistic reporting), your vocabulary.

Make the reader feel you. Put the “I” into your writing.

Hitchens advises: “If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.”

Get a copy of the June Vanity Fair and read Hitchen’s article. It’s both a lesson in writing and a lesson in dying.

Just a write thought.


Jun 072011

According to a recent USA Today article, retailers such as Best Buy, Target, Barnes & Noble, and Wal-Mart are cutting back on their CD selections. A Best Buy spokesperson is quoted as saying, “As people buy less, we stock less.” Sounds like a self-fulfilling cycle to this observer, but, sadly, one that isn’t likely to be reversed.

There’s more bad news….

In 2010, CD sales fell 19% and are down 8.8% this year.

Pretty dire, huh?

But wait.

Downloaded albums sales are up a healthy 16.8% and downloaded tracks are up 9.6%. Overall music sales are up 1.6%.

Yep, you read right, music sales are up.

Music isn’t going away. Albums aren’t going away. And according to Dave Bakula of Neilson, a company which tracks weekly sales statistics, “CDs are going to be around for a long time.”

So, to summarize what’s happening:  

Downloads are growing, brick and mortar store sales are slipping, online sales of CDs are strong. Music is a growing industry.

(By the way CDs are enjoying the “long-tail” effect: offers 4,000,000 CDs. Great for lesser-known songsters.)

Should we look for the same things to happen in books?


The future is bright. Keep on writing and publishing.

Just a write thought.

May 312011

I’m fresh back from New York City and the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Publishing University, which they refer to simply as “Pub U.”

The Pub U is held on the two or three days just prior to the huge, annual Book Expo America.

If you are a book publisher or if you plan on publishing, attending both makes a great one-two educational punch. I’ve been in the book biz for 17 years or so, and I learn something new from these two events every year. And, of course, networking is perhaps the most valuable component of both.

My presentation at Pub U was part of a panel that discussed the necessity of a publisher using a distributor or a wholesaler to get his or her books to market. The two others on the panel were Richard T. Williams of Small Press United, a book distributor, and Craig Pollock of Ingram Book Company. Ingram is the 800-pound canary of the book wholesale industry. Nancy Stewart, also of Ingram, moderated.

In the book industry the terms “distributor” and “wholesaler” are not identical. A distributor contracts with a publisher for the exclusive right to supply a publisher’s books to the greater book trade, including retailers, wholesalers, and libraries. A wholesaler sells into the same book trade but doesn’t require exclusivity.

A distributor is supposed to supply active and aggressive sales representation on behalf of the publisher’s titles. This sales representation can get watered down for a number of reasons, including the fact that many distributors represent too many publishers to give first rate attention to any but the largest and most successful ones. A distributor’s staff may not like a title or see its potential, or may not feel the publisher is doing enough marketing for it and therefore may not get behind it.

The distributor usually retains 25% to 30% of net sales for its services.

 Below is a link to the PowerPoint from my talk. The first two slides explain this a bit more.

Steve Mettee Look Before You Leap IBPA-2011 

I think with brick and mortar bookstores accounting for less and less of the market for books, a publisher should think twice before signing with a distributor. That was the gist of my presentation.

What should a publisher do with the extra margin retained when not using a distributor? Spend the money on marketing the books.

 Just a write thought.

Apr 172011

The book business is more granular than other businesses. Books are sold one copy at a time.

Hook someone on your brand of toothpaste or a certain wine and you’ll get sale after sale. Hook someone on your book and the best you can hope for is that he buys copies for gifts—and that he has lots of friends—or that he talks it up so others will be prompted to buy a copy.

Here is a quote I stole from a recent edition of Shelf Awareness, a great daily newsletter for those interested in bookselling:

Margaret Atwood (Image from Wikipedia.)

“When people say publishing is a business—actually it’s not quite a business. It’s part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It’s not like any other business, and that’s why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, ‘Right, I’m going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,’ two years later you find they’re bald because they’ve torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, ‘It’s not like selling beer. It’s not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.’ You’re selling one book–not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let’s say, ‘Graham Greene’ almost like a brand. You’re selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It’s very specific.”

                          —Margaret Atwood in an interview with the Globe & Mail

Canadian Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, and short story writer. She has been described as a “scintillating wordsmith.”

As challanging as we find the book biz, many publishers—and authors—manage to thrive. My guess is, excellent writing is the best place to start.

Just a write thought.

Mar 312011

Federal Judge Denny Chin, after 13 months of pondering, rejected the proposed amended settlement agreement in the Google Books class action lawsuit.

If you don’t recall…

In 2005, Google began systematically scanning every book they could find. A number of august university and public libraries stepped forward to allow this.

Both copyrighted public domain material was included.

While the libraries would be allowed complete access to the digital copies, Google, at the time, said their goal was simply to allow snippets of each book to be accessed in a Google search.

Some people complained.

Google yelped, “Fair use!”

Everyone wasn’t in agreement. Suits were filed.

Attorneys enriched.

The plot thickened when Google announced they would begin selling copies of any out-of-print book they had a scan of unless the copyright owner objected. These works were given the handle “orphaned works.”

If the rights owner identified himself, and agreed to Google’s terms, Google would share the revenue. A nonprofit Book Rights Registry was to be created to receive the right’s owner’s share if no rights owner stepped up. If the rights were in dispute or unclear, the Registry would play arbitrator. If I recall, there was to be a small fee for this.

Some felt it was unfair to have to opt out of Google’s program. Copyright law is pretty clear on this. Permission must be granted prior to use.

More people complained.

More attorneys were enriched.

Feathers and fur flew. The Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers joined the fray.

Time passed. Speculations abounded.

Attorneys were further enriched.

The Authors Guild, the AAP, and Google forged a settlement. It was later amended.

In 2010, Judge Chin began his deliberations on the amended settlement. His goal was to be sure the settlement was fair, adequate and reasonable. His long-awaited decision came on March 22. Chin ruled it wasn’t fair, adequate and reasonable.

Here are some of the judge’s concerns.

• The classes that were supposed to be represented in the class action suit were not broadly enough represented. The Authors Guild has about 8,000 author members, the AAP about 300 publisher members. Hardly complete representation of the hundreds of thousands of rights holders.

• An opt-out system fashions an involuntary usurpation of rights. International law came into play here since foreign authors would also have to opt out.

• Antitrust comes into play also. The settlement gave Google a “de facto monopoly on orphan works.”

• Individual privacy is also a concern. Google would get a clear window on what people were viewing and for how long.

The judge’s suggestions included:

• Make it an opt-in rather than an opt-out program.

• Set up systems so others have more access to Google’s repository of digital works.

• Send the orphaned works question to Congress. (The question has gone before Congress before but failed move through to law.)

What will happen now?

It’s anybody’s guess, but here are some thoughts being bandied about:

• Google may start lobbying Congress. What they can’t get by fiat, they may be able to get by cozying up with your local congressman.

• Google may admit their audacity and be content that they have already collected a huge database of rights holder information from those who registered with Google Books while the case was being deliberated and be happy with an opt-in program going forward.

• Chin’s ruling may be overturned. (The legal pundits say Chin was deliberate in his wording making this outcome unlikely.)

• The parties may go back to the drawing board. The Authors Guild and the AAP appear willing to do this. Google, at this writing, simply says it is “disappointed.”

What we do know for sure will happen:

• Large organizations, governments included, will continue to assault individual rights.

• Attorneys will continue to be enriched.

Just a write thought.

Mar 202011

Since we are about to launch the first eight books in our Classic Wisdom on Writing series, I felt The Write Thought deserved a logo. Here in 4-color, grayscale, and black and white  is what I came up with.


I felt it had sincerity and enthusiasm. What say you?

Just a write thought.