An American Editor

August 24, 2016

The Business of Editing: Is It Smart to Give Clients Freebies?

Back in the day, when I began my editing career, editors were viewed much differently than they are now. We weren’t gods, no matter how much we wished we were, but we were respected and both editors and clients debated whether editing was an art or a business. The idea was that if it was an art, then pay and work conditions were secondary considerations; the primary consideration was how to improve editing by increasing accuracy and decreasing errors in an endeavor for editorial perfection even at the editor’s expense. In contrast, if it was a business, then the editor needed to approach it like a business, including advertising and striving to produce what the client asked for, rather than to achieve perfection — basically, doing what you were paid for and not seeking perfection at your own expense.

Even publisher clients were in that game. The rate of pay was decent; editors could earn high middle-class incomes, and publishers actually gave raises to freelancers. (I can recall one publishing company was so pleased with my work that it insisted I accept a 20% increase. Those days are long gone.) More importantly, publishers promoted the artisanal approach to editing by being willing to go above the original budget if the striving for perfection required doing so. Publishers did two other things in those days, things that are very rarely seen now — altering schedules so that a manuscript could be edited by a particular editor and offering on their own a higher pay rate to get a particular editor to take on a manuscript. Both those things occurred often in my early editing years; they still occasionally occur, but with far less frequency.

The point is that the relationship between the editor and the client was once governed by the view that striving for editorial perfection was desirable and the primary focus of both editor and client. Which also meant that in exchange, editors would go beyond what the agreement with the client called for and throw in “freebies.” But the winds were changing.

Not long after I began my editing career, the publishing industry began consolidating. Previously family-owned publishing houses were being sold to larger rivals who were themselves being bought by even larger international rivals. Offices were being closed and consolidated; in-house staff were losing their jobs; and, most importantly, the publisher’s view of editing as artisanal was rapidly being displaced by business-centric views. The view that began its striking ascendancy, and which is now the dominant view, was that editing is invisible to the reader, so a less-perfect product at a lower price is all that is needed.

But, as very longtime editors know, although publishers decreased or simply maintained freelancer pay, they also began requiring freelancers to do more tasks in exchange for that pay. For example, things that in-house production staff did became the job of the freelancer.

The profession of editing evolved from an artisanal profession into a business. Many editors struggled with this evolution; for others it was an easy — even welcome — change. Which leads me to the question at hand: Is it smart to give clients freebies today?

In the early years of the evolution, I thought providing freebies, which simply means bonus services not paid for by the client, was a good marketing strategy that might entice the client to call again and do so quickly. The strategy had value then because the freebie reduced the workload of the in-house editor with whom the freelancer had a relationship. The practice seemed mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, not only did it change the expectation level of the in-house editor with whom the freelancer had an ongoing relationship, but it also changed what the rest of the in-house staff expected. What was once a freebie turned into a virtual requirement of the job.

Observing that change in expectation and seeing how much more business-centric my clients were becoming, I began reevaluating the freebie as a marketing tool. My approach has changed greatly. I no longer think it is smart business to offer a freebie per se. Instead, the freebies I now offer are natural products of my constant effort to make my editing business more efficient and profitable.

A good example is my reference renumbering report (see, e.g., “The Business of Editing: Keeping Reference Callouts in Number Order” and “Business of Editing: Dealing with Reference Renumbering”). The Reference Number Order macro in EditTools was created to help me keep easy track of renumbering. The report I can generate for a client takes the information I have already entered for my own use and exports it to a file that I can send as a freebie. The cost to me is virtually zero (to create the file takes a click of a button) but, as clients have remarked, the report is very valuable to their authors and proofreaders, and thus to them.

I steadfastly avoid giving something that costs me time or money or is something that the client should be paying for. I also am careful to not provide anything that will increase my workload and that the client will soon expect me to include at no additional cost.

Another example of a freebie I provide all my clients is my online stylesheet. My stylesheet offers three things to my clients — at no cost to me:

  1. As I am editing, an interested client can check the stylesheet and see whether I have made any decisions that this client would like altered. Perhaps I decided to spell out only numbers one to nine before learning that the client would prefer having numbers one to ninety-nine spelled out; or I used the first spelling of traveler in MW 11, but the client turns out to want the equal variant, traveller. The client can see whatever information I put on the stylesheet (but, no, the client cannot make any direct changes to the stylesheet; the client must tell me what changes I should make. This ensures that I know exactly what the client wants).
  2. Because the stylesheet is current to the minute (i.e., what the client can see is no more than one minute older than what I can see) and because the stylesheet is accessible by the client 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round and is downloadable at the client’s convenience and as often as the client wishes, the client can provide proofreaders with up-to-the-minute copies of the stylesheet.
  3. Five years from now, when the client plans to work up a new edition of the book, the client can access my website and again download the stylesheet for the edition I edited. No more lost stylesheets or even not getting a stylesheet — the client only needs to log in, locate the project, and download the stylesheet. Today, for example, clients can retrieve stylesheets from books I edited for them in 2006 — and doing so is not conditional on my editing the new edition.

The stylesheet is a valuable freebie that costs me nothing. I have to provide a stylesheet with nearly all my projects anyway, so why not take advantage of it? Clients like that they can check on how things are progressing without having to contact me. They also like that they can do so at their convenience. Most importantly, they like that they can give their proofreaders these up-to-the-minute stylesheets without waiting for me to send them one.

The ability to retrieve a stylesheet when preparing to do a subsequent edition is also something clients like, as it helps maintain consistency between editions. I, too, like it because it reminds them that I am already familiar with the book, have the stylesheet readily available, and would thus be a good choice to hire for editing the new edition — it’s a good way to market passively. This, too, costs me nothing because I am already maintaining a website for my business and the stylesheets take up very little server space. Plus the clients do the actual “work” of retrieving and printing the stylesheet; I am just making it easy for them to do.

Basically, the freebies of today need to be passive freebies. They need to cost the freelancer virtually nothing but still have value to the client. What those freebies are will differ for each of us, but the bottom-line principle remains the same: the cost must be almost nil to us so that if it becomes an expectation of the client, it does not result in a reduction of our profits. Freebies should arise out of things we are doing for our own benefit, things that we do or would do to make our own work flow better.

If giving a freebie does not meet those criteria, then the answer to the question is no, it is not smart to give clients freebies nowadays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 3, 2021

On the Basics: Should we work for free?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Disclaimer: This post expands on a conversation I’ve participated in on LinkedIn, so some of you may have seen parts of it already.

Like many of us here, I’m often asked to do writing, editing, proofreading, website or speaking work for free. When such a request comes from organizations or causes I believe in, I’ll consider it and sometimes say yes. From people who aim to profit from the project or my potential role, I find polite but firm ways to say no, and explain — if necessary — that I do this work as my profession, so I expect to be paid. I don’t talk about my need to pay a mortgage or buy groceries; I simply present myself as a business. With newbie authors, I suggest that they start saving so they can afford to hire professional editors or proofreaders, designers, etc. With startup companies, I suggest that they get back in touch once they’re funded/established and can pay for professional services.

While it can be challenging to stand up for ourselves in terms of being paid, I find it easy to talk to people about pro bono or free work. If we don’t value our services, skills and experience, no one else will. I wish people would realize that someone like me does the work as my profession, my living, or at least respect that — I think it’s pretty clear that I write, edit, etc., as something other than a hobby. People probably know that, if they have any sense; they just don’t want to accept or respect it.

It does help that I’ve been in the communications field for long enough that I don’t have to do free work to become established, prove myself, earn paying projects or making a comfortable living. If I were just starting out, my perspective might be different — but I would still put limits on the scope of pro bono work I would do.

The lawyers I work with in editing or proofreading for law firms do pro bono work for charities/nonprofit organizations as part of their and their firms’ commitments to service to their communities. Pro bono is expected in their profession. They also might get awards for such contributions. We in the editorial field don’t usually get such recognition; we do pro bono as a personal service, and sometimes to get established.

The difference is probably that the lawyer or accountant usually has a regular income, so doing pro bono work doesn’t cut into their business the way editing someone’s ms. for free, for instance, would interfere with a freelancer’s income-generating time. I wouldn’t give away editing an entire ms. unless the author were a relative, very close friend or colleague who had done something similar for me — but I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that substantial for me without compensation. Maybe a skim and an opinion, but not actual work.

Good reasons to donate our time

It should be noted that there are good reasons to do some editorial work for free.

If you’re new to the field, it makes sense to do a few projects for free to get established, build a network, create visibility and prove your skills. If you’re in a rut and want to expand into new types of editorial work or start covering new topics, it might take doing some work for free to get your feet wet and establish yourself on those new levels.

One example of writing for free is, of course, blogging. I don’t profit from the An American Editor blog, much as I enjoy writing here, and many of our subscribers have their own blogs on all kinds of topics that they don’t get paid to write about. These projects are everything from a service to colleagues, or friends and family, to soapboxes to therapy of a sort. Blogs are a great outlet for opinions and insights that you can’t share elsewhere and don’t have a paying client for, and can be an excellent way to get noticed. Even posting to someone else’s blog can be beneficial by creating greater visibility for your work and voice. (Some blogs do make money — there’s a lot of advice about “monetizing” blogs, and bloggers have been known to get book or other paying offers based on their posts.) However, working for free in return for visibility or “exposure” can be iffy. Just keep in mind that exposure can get someone arrested, or killed. 🙂

One of the hardest work-for-free requests for me is speaking. I love to talk, I love to share information, I love to be of help to colleagues, I love to be around people at conferences and similar events. I don‘t love to travel or stay in hotels on my own dime, which is often what’s involved with speaking at out-of-town events. Some organizations even have the chutzpah to expect speakers to pay to attend the events where they’ll be speaking, which I don’t accept. I believe that when someone is providing expert advice, they should get something out of it. That’s why the Be a Better Freelancer® conference that I host (now with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, and AAE) covers speaker accommodations, conference fee and meals at the very least, and often has paid for speaker travel as well.

I often recommend that colleagues put limits or deadlines on the pro bono work that they do, but I’ve never come up with a standard for setting the amount of time I might give to such projects. Some of them have involved a couple of hours, some have been ongoing for a long time; it depends on the cause or organization and my connection to it.

Setting boundaries is also unpredictable. Sometimes I say I’ll be available for X hours or Y months; sometimes I just see how I feel after a while to decide it’s time to stop and devote my energy to something else. How long you work pro bono and for whom is a personal decision that you probably have to make on a case-by-case basis; there might be no one-size-fits-all rule. Just be sure to give adequate warning when you reach that point of no more freebies so the recipient can fill the gap quickly.

When it comes to speaking, I often make my decision based on event location: If a conference will be held somewhere that I like or want to visit, especially because I have friends or family there, that tends to tilt the scale toward yes. If you’re an author with books to sell (or an artist or photographer, etc., with works to sell), speaking engagements can lead to onsite sales, which can offset the expense of getting to the event and make the free speech worth doing. Some of my colleagues consider the travel points they accumulate from speaking at out-of-town events as a worthwhile swap for being paid to present.

Doing free writing, editing, proofreading, indexing and other types of editorial work can be fulfilling. It can even be profitable: The connections you make and the work can take you from volunteer to employee or paid contributor. Before you turn down or accept such requests, look at them closely, think about how acceding to them will feel and act accordingly. Set your own limits and go from there.

Have you done any pro bono editorial work? For whom? How did you respond? How did it turn out for you?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the owner and editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers and companies worldwide. She created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues, now cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors and An American Editor. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

July 20, 2015

Lyonizing Word: From Easy to Impossible — Three Variations on a Theme

by Jack Lyon

Rich Adin just keeps on escalating the difficulty of his requests. That’s okay, because I appreciate a good challenge. Here’s his latest:

Okay, Jack, you solved the problem of reducing the number of authors from more than three down to three.

To see what Rich is talking about, please see my previous posts here: Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . . and Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy.

Rich continues:

But there is a caveat: the list of names needs to end with “et al:”. So let me pose three more variations.

Three?! Oh, all right. Here we go:

Variation 1

How do I handle instances where the ending is punctuation other than “et al:”? For example, it could be a different punctuation mark than the colon or it could end with an author name and not “et al” (e.g., “Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W:” or “Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W, Hoffnagle TTP.”)

How do we handle instances where the ending is punctuation other than “et al:”? Here are Rich’s examples, all laid out for our inspection:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W, Hoffnagle TTP.

As usual, the key is to find the “handle,” the unique elements we can grab to carry out our search. (For more on this, please see my article “What’s Your Handle?” [2003] at the Editorium Update.)

In Rich’s examples, the “handles” would have to be the colon that ends the first entry and the period that ends the second. Let’s try modifying the wildcard string from the previous post for Lyonizing Word:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )[!^013]@([:.])

Here’s what that means:

Find any characters except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Then find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by [:.] (specifying a colon or a period) in parentheses to form a group.

And we can use the following in the “Replace With” box:

\1\2

Here’s what that means:

Replace everything that was found
with the text represented by group 1: \1
followed by the text represented by group 2: \2

But does that actually work? Well, sort of, Here’s what we get:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, :
Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, .

Maybe that’s close enough, as it would now be an easy matter to search for comma space colon and replace it with a colon, and to search for comma space period and replace it with a period. But if we want to refine our search string even further, we could use this:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@), [!^013]@([:.])

Here, we’ve placed the comma and space following the third name outside the parenthetical group, so they’re not included when the group is replaced by /1. That actually solves the problem, if you want to get precise, giving us a result like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO:
Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO.

Variation 2

Rich wrote:

How can I revise the string to work even if there is no consistency in punctuation of names? For example, suppose the names are: “Lyon, J, Adin R, Carter T.O., Jackson TT, Doe, J.; Smith K; Winger, W; Hoffnagle TTP.”

As given, this can’t be done. Why? Because we’ve lost the uniqueness of the comma “handles” that separate the names. For example, instead of this —

Lyon J,

— we have this:

Lyon, J,

And instead of this —

Smith K,

— we have this:

Smith K;

So again, as given, we can’t fulfill Rich’s request. But can we change the “as given”? Why, yes, we can!

We can search for a lowercase letter followed by a comma (at the end of a last name) and replace it with just the lowercase letter (and no comma):

Find what: ([a-z]),
Replace with: \1

We can search for a semicolon (which sometimes follows initials) and replace it with a comma:

Find what: ;
Replace with: ,

Then we can use the same wildcard string we used earlier to fulfill Rich’s request:

Find what: ([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@), [!^013]@([:.])
Replace with: \1\2

You may be wondering if these wildcard strings will affect the article titles and journal names and not just the author names. The answer is, it depends. I’m assuming, for example, that the article titles and journal names don’t include commas (just for purposes of illustration). But if they do, you may have to get creative. Let’s take this as an example:

Levy, D, Ehret G, Rice K, Verwoert G, Launer L, Dehghan A, Glazer N, Morrison A, Johnson A, Aspelund T, Ganesh S, Chasman D: Genome-wide association study of blood pressure, stress, and hypertension. Nature 2009, 41(6): 677-687.

See that comma after “Levy”? Above, we got rid of it with the following strings:

Find what: ([a-z]),
Replace with: \1

But notice that this will also remove the commas after “pressure” and “stress” in the article title, which we don’t want to do. The solution, again, comes down to handles. What do we have that sets off the article title and journal name? In this example, they’re preceded by the colon after the author names (“Chasman D:”) and followed by a carriage return (at the end of the citation). So here’s a rather sneaky solution: Search for a colon followed by anything that isn’t a carriage return until you come to a carriage return. Then replace whatever was found with itself (^&) formatted as Hidden:

Find what: :[!^013]@^013
Replace with (use Hidden formatting): ^&

If you don’t know how to replace using formatting, here’s the secret:

1. Put your cursor in the “Replace with” box.
2. Click the “More” button if it’s showing.
3. Click the “Format” button on the bottom left.
4. Click “Font.”
5. Put a check in box labeled “Hidden.”
6. Click the “OK” button.

Notice that you can replace with all kinds of formatting: styles, paragraph alignment, and so on. You can also use formatting in the “Find what” box! This is really powerful stuff, and if you didn’t know about it before, now you can add it to your bag of tricks.

At any rate, with the article titles and journal names formatted as Hidden, you can make sure they actually are hidden by clicking the “Show/Hide” button (with the pilcrow icon: ¶) on Word’s “Home” tab. Then run your find and replace to remove commas from last names:

Find what: ([a-z]),
Replace with: \1

Finally, unhide the article titles and journal names (after using “Show/Hide” to display them):

Find what: (Hidden formatting)
Replace with: (Not Hidden formatting)

At that point, the commas will be gone from the authors’ last names but preserved in the article titles and journal names.

By the way, if you’re working on a Macintosh, you’ll find that Word doesn’t recognize the standard code for a carriage return (^013) while searching with wildcards. But never fear: you can still do what you need by “escaping” the code with a backslash and treating it as a range using square brackets. In other words, use this:

[\ˆ013]

To specify not a carriage return, use the following:

[!\ˆ013]

Variation 3

Rich wrote:

How can I adapt the wildcard string to delete those in excess of a certain number? For example, I have one client who wants up to ten author names listed and “et al” used only for names eleven and following. I would like to specify how many names I want retained and replace the excess with “et al.” For example, if there are fifteen names, delete the last five if ten are okay and replace them with “et al.”

Theoretically, we could do that as long as there’s a “handle” that marks the end of the names. Let’s take this example:

Levy D, Ehret G, Rice K, Verwoert G, Launer L, Dehghan A, Glazer N, Morrison A, Johnson A, Aspelund T, Ganesh S, Chasman D: Genome-wide association study of blood pressure and hypertension. Nature 2009, 41(6): 677-687.

There are actually twelve names there, so we want to keep the first ten and replace the last two with “et al.” What’s our handle? The colon after the last name (“Chasman D:”) and before the article’s title. So let’s try an expansion of the wildcard search string we used in the previous post for Lyonizing Word. Instead of grouping three comma-separated names, we’ll group ten:

Find what: ([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@,)[!^013]@(:)
Replace with: \1 et al.\2

That would work if Word could handle it. But if you try it, Word will complain: “The Find What text contains a Pattern Match expression which is too complex.” So now what? Honestly, I’m not sure. I tried several other possibilities, none of which were successful. So if you, Gentle Reader, have any ideas about how to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat, I’d love to hear them.

Wildcard searching can’t do everything, but it can do an awful lot. As I’ve said before, after all these years of editing, wildcard searching is the tool I rely on the most. I encourage you to invest the time needed to learn to use this tool, which will repay your efforts many times over. A good place to start is my free paper “Advanced Find and Replace in Microsoft Word.”

I hope you’ll also watch for my forthcoming Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find more real-life examples for the book, so if you have some particularly sticky problems that might be solved using a wildcard search, I hope you’ll send them my way. Maybe I can save you some work and at the same time figure out solutions that will help others in the future. Thanks for your help!

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

For other Lyonizing Word essays at An American Editor, Lyonizing Word at AAE.

March 5, 2012

Priming the Pump: Amazon’s Prime Program

A small brief in a recent Bloomberg’s Businessweek, titled “Amazon Is Said to Have Fewer Prime Subscribers Than Estimated,” caught my eye. The brief in the print magazine was expanded in the online version (which is linked above).

The reason it interests me is, of course, Amazon’s exclusivity program that has enticed 100,000+ books to its program, as well as for the question of how long can Amazon continue to ignore its obligations to shareholders and continue to deliberately lose money on parts of its business. According to the article, “Even with less adoption than expected, the Price promotion has weighed on Amazon’s shipping costs. Those expenses jumped 55 percent to $4 billion last year, dwarfing the $1.55 billion Amazon gets in shipping fees from customers.” In a company Amazon’s size, if the figures were millions of dollars, I think everyone would sit back and yawn. But billions of dollars raises eyebrows. A $2.45 billion loss on shipping alone is not insignificant.

The number of Prime members raises another issue. What did authors believe when signing up for the exclusive program? There is a huge difference between 3 to 5 million actual Prime members and the expected (by analysts) 10 million members.

For me, the real problem with Amazon, aside from its ongoing attempts to monopolize the publishing industry, is the secrecy of its numbers and how shareholders and consumers alike are willing to give Amazon a pass on disclosure of true, accurate numbers, a pass that they are unwilling to extend to other public corporations.

I also wonder what will happen when Amazon decides that it is time to stop losing money and that each area of its business must at least break even. What will happen to the authors who bought into its program? What will happen to the consumers who are part of the ecosystem?

Can we can the “but you can strip the DRM from Amazon’s ebooks and convert them to other formats” response. Yes, you can do that, but most people who bought into the Amazon eco system cannot or will not. It really isn’t a viable response. You can also probably write an app for the iPad; I can’t, have no interest in learning to do so, and won’t. Just because a small percentage of users won’t be and aren’t affected by the closed eco system, doesn’t make it less of a closed eco system.

Although authors are looking at Amazon through a different set of eyeglasses than the consumer, doesn’t mean they don’t have something to worry about with the closed eco system, especially if Amazon follows up, as it may well have to in order to balance its books, by saying to indie authors either give us long-term exclusivity at a price we set or your books can no longer be sold on Amazon. Right now Amazon can’t say that to the big traditional publishers, but it is sure working toward being able to do so.

This is why numbers, real numbers, are so important. How can an author decide what is best for the author long-term in the absence of hard numbers. This problem also exists with Barnes & Noble. In the absence of knowing hard numbers, we are left with puffery. Amazon says it has sold millions upon millions of Kindles, and we all simply swallow it. It smacks of the Ponzi scheme where investors are asked to believe that investing will bring 100% returns (the Bernie Madoff dream).

It may well be true that Amazon has sold 20 million Kindles and that every Kindle owner buys (not freebies) at least 5 ebooks every year; however, it may also be true that Amazon has sold only 10 million Kindles and that 9 of 10 Kindle owners only download free ebooks, never actually buying a single ebook.

But it is important for authors to know how Amazon stacks up against B&N, Kobo, and Sony, for example, in sales of hardware and ebooks. Maybe Amazon outsells its competitors 7:1 on both fronts; maybe combined the competitors outsell Amazon 3:1 on both fronts. If the former, then Amazon exclusivity looks like a smarter business decision; if the latter, it doesn’t.

Amazon has been coy about real numbers. Why? The answer usually given is that it doesn’t want to alert its competitors to its real sales numbers. I fail to see the logic in this. If I knew that Amazon was outselling its competitors by 10:1, as a consumer, I would be more inclined to buy the Kindle because it is more likely to be around 10 years from now. Disclosing the real numbers cannot give competitors any competitive advantage but instead might serve to induce more sales.

No, there is some other reason why real numbers are not on the table, and I think the Businessweek brief is an indication why: Amazon isn’t doing as well as it says or leads investors and consumers to believe. I think if the real numbers were known, Amazon’s stock would drop and authors would be less willing to be Amazon exclusive.

What amazes me most is that people are willing to make decisions based on speculation when it comes to Amazon, but in other instances demand to know the real numbers. As I said earlier, it reminds me of a Ponzi scheme — the desire to believe what we want to believe and hear. No one seems to worry that the ebook/Kindle portion of Amazon may be a house of cards.

The one thing that is certain, is that investors are starting to grumble and eventually Amazon will have to divulge the information, if for no other reason than to satisfy investor grumbling. When it does, those of us who have swallowed Amazon’s pronouncements wholeheartedly had best be prepared to absorb the news. It may well turn out that Amazon’s performance is much better than what is speculated, but it may also be that it is much worse. In the meantime, I wonder how long Amazon will continue to absorb all of the losses being reported before making demands on consumers. Time will tell.

October 17, 2011

On Today’s Bookshelf (X)

Filed under: On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

My to-be-read pile keeps getting higher and higher. Fortunately, ebooks don’t take up much in the way of physical space or I would be in trouble. I must have a backlog of close to 500 ebooks waiting to be read.

I’m beginning to think that being a booklover is more akin to an illness than to anything else. The ease with which we can accumulate and store ebooks — and that so many of us are unable to resist adding to our ebook collection — should create a new psychological disorder along the lines of hoarding. I’m not sure what to name it, but now is the time to start thinking of names so perhaps I can get bragging rights when the American Psychological Association finally recognizes my named disorder.

Anyway, it’s time to list the new acquisitions. As usual I begin with hardcovers.

Hardcovers —

  • 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory by David Pietrusza
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell
  • The Annotated Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon
  • Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance by Michael Goldfarb

eBooks (a partial list of recent acquisitions) 

  • Show No Mercy: A Michael Dodge Thriller by Brian Drake
  • Mist Warriors by Rebecca Shelley
  • The Chicago Druid and the Ugly Princess by Thomas Kennedy
  • Hunting the Wolfpack by Michael McQuade
  • Starseeker by Stephen Shypitka
  • Openers by Michael E. Benson
  • Dark Moon Rising by B.K. Reeves
  • Dead is Dead by James Gabriel
  • Vindicator by Denney Clements
  • Untouchable by Scott O’Connor
  • The Girl Born of Smoke by Jessica Billings
  • Shadow Touch by Erin Kellison
  • Ransome’s Honor by Kaye Dacus
  • Night Bird’s Reign by Holly Taylor
  • Legwork: A Casey Jones Mystery by Katy Munger
  • Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
  • Birchwood by Robert Taylor
  • Deadworld by J.N. Duncan
  • The Girl Who Tweaked Two Lions’ Tails by Pierre Van Rooyen
  • Mama Does Time by Deborah Sharp
  • Deadly Sanctuary by Sylvia Nobel
  • Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Nance
  • Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe
  • The Society of Dirty Hearts by Ben Cheetham

As is usual with the ebooks, the purchase price of nearly all of the ebooks was “free.” With all of the free ebooks that are available, including from traditional publishers, I am beginning to wonder if there is really a future for the larger corporate publishers. I am accumulating so many freebies that I never have to buy a high-priced Agency 6 book to have something to read — even if 85% of the freebies turn out to be not readable at all.

For the big publishing houses, this should be worrisome. Alas, I do not think it even registers with them — if it does, it isn’t reflected in the pricing of Agency 6 ebooks.

September 22, 2011

The Survey Gives a Lesson?

A few days ago, Harris Interactive released the results of a survey on ebookers and ereaders (see “One in Six Americans Now Use E-Reader with One in Six Likely to Purchase in Next Six Months”). Personally, I didn’t find the results unexpected because, as I’ve noted in previous articles, the survey results simply mimic my own habits.

The survey omits some important questions and definitions — for example, how many of the “purchased” ebooks were freebies — but it does highlight two important trends: first, that electronic reading is here to stay, and second, that smart publishers will jump on the ebook reading trend with both feet and both arms rather than toe by toe.

The survey spoke a lesson to me. Well, not really a lesson, I suppose, but it made me immediately think: If I were a publisher, how can I harness this increased interest in reading volume? That’s the real issue: the volume.

If I were a publisher, I would start thinking about how I can increase the number of ereading devices in use because there is a clear correlation between the growth in devices and the growth in number of books read and purchased in a year. If I were a publisher, I would also start thinking about how I can open — not further close or constrict — the ebook eco system.

Publishers have learned neither the lesson of the music industry nor of their own foray into agency pricing. The absolute worst thing that can happen as ebook reading expands geometrically, is for most of that expansion to occur at Amazon. The more dependant ebookers become on the Amazon eco system, the more power Amazon will be able to exert over pricing, taking us back to where we were before agency pricing. With the Harris results in front of them, publishers should be thinking about how to combat the Amazon eco system before they can’t.

That was the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn when it didn’t combat the iTunes eco system early enough, focusing instead on the Napsters of the world. Apple is really just a more sophisticated Napster, smart enough to throw some placating crumbs the music industry’s way. Now the music industry is at Apple’s mercy; soon publishers will be at Amazon’s mercy, at least in the United States, which remains the largest book market.

One thing publishers could do is agree on a standard format that every book would have to be “created” and sold in. Publishers could say that their books can only be sold in ePub format and with a standardized DRM. Doing so would best serve consumers even if it would make competition among booksellers more keen. This would probably cause some near-term drop in revenue for publishers, but in the end it would give publishers better control over the marketplace. It would also work to eliminate the possibility of one retailer becoming so dominant that it could dictate terms to the publishers.

If every reading device was able to read a particular book, consumers wouldn’t care where they bought the book unless there was a price differential. The Stephen King bought from Amazon is no different, content-wise, from the same title bought from Barnes & Noble.

Publishers need to demonstrate some gumption and adopt such an approach while they still can. As Amazon and B&N grow their own publishing services, they will be able to feed their own eco systems. At some point, authors will care more about being in the right eco system than about being with a traditional publisher. When that point is reached, Amazon wins and the publishers lose — game over!

From a consumer perspective, the sad thing is that Amazon holds all the cards because it is willing to lose money today to rake it in tomorrow, whereas publishers are so conservative and turtlesque, the value of the cards they do hold decreases by the minute. Consumers would be significantly better off with a standardized format and DRM than the current system, just as was the case when the Betamax vs. VHS war ended with a single standard.

And the time for publishers to act is now before the growth of ebook devices and ebook purchasing stabilizes. The more mature the market and the more a single vendor owns a large portion of the mature market, the more difficult it is to make changes.

But then, perhaps the real intent of publishers is simply to rollover for Amazon and hope for the best. I guess we’ll know the answer in the not-too-distant future.

September 19, 2011

On Books: David Crookes — More Down Under

As I have mentioned innumerable times, I usually read indie ebooks that I am able to obtain for free. I find it difficult to consider spending money (or more than a nominal sum) on an author with whom I have no familiarity.

In the “olden” days, I never thought twice about buying a book from an unknown author. The reasons why are that I found the book either by seeing it in a local bookstore or through a trusted book review, and because publishers really took their gatekeeper responsibilities to heart — I didn’t have to take a shot in the dark, so to speak. The Internet has brought about all sorts of changes. Now I’m simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books available and I lack the patience to read a sample online.

The result of the failure of the gatekeeper system and the rise of the indie author is that I am disinclined to spend money on an unknown author. Consequently, most of the books in my to-be-read pile are freebies.

A couple of weeks ago, I opened a freebie I had downloaded a while ago, Blackbird, by David Crookes. This is historical fiction based on a true story out of Australia’s history. Blackbird was my introduction to David Crookes.

In the beginning, Australia relied on slavery. Slavers would roam the islands around Australia and capture blacks to work as slaves. The process was called “blackbirding,” thus the title of the book. Blackbird is the story of one slave and her relationship with Ben Luk, a half-breed of Chinese and white mixture.

After reading Blackbird, which I found to be outstanding, I found another ebook in my TBR pile by Crookes titled Redcoat. It is the story of a British soldier who causes a superior officer to become a paraplegic and the officer’s subsequent hunt for the soldier for revenge. Once again, I was reading a book that I couldn’t put down.

The result of reading these two ebooks was that I wanted to read more of Crookes’ work, so I purchased the other available titles: Borderline; Children of the Sun; Someday Soon; The Light Horseman’s Daughter; and Great Spirit Valley. Of these, I have read The Light Horseman’s Daughter, which occurs during the Depression and is the story of a woman’s efforts to save both herself and her family, and Someday Soon, which takes place during World War II and focuses on people thrown together as a result of Japanese bombing of Darwin, Australia.

(I’ve taken a temporary hiatus from Crookes’ books because the new David Weber book, How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Series #5), which I have long been waiting for, was released. After I finish it, I will return to Crookes’ books.)

After finishing Blackbird, I suggested to my wife that she read the book, thinking she would like it, just as we both liked Shayne Parkinson’s historical novels (see On Books: Promises to Keep are Promises Kept and the articles cited in it). Yesterday, my wife complained that Blackbird kept her reading until 2 a.m. because she can’t put the book down.

So that’s all the good news about Crookes’ ebooks. The bad news is that his books are in need of a proofreader and/or a copyeditor. It becomes tiresome, for example, to read “your” when the author means “you are” or “you’re.” The errors in the books are relatively minor and what is meant is easily grasped, but they are annoying just the same and shouldn’t exist in books for which the author is charging $3.99.

Even with these tiresome errors, I find Crookes’ books very difficult to put aside. He is a natural storyteller; even my wife has remarked on that. His writing is definitely 5 star and worth the price. Crookes can join that pantheon of great indie Down Under writers (with Down Under being inclusive of both Australia and New Zealand), which for this blog includes Shayne Parkinson, Vicki Tyley (see On Books: Murder Down Under), and now David Crookes.

As of this writing, Redcoat is available free from Smashwords. Give it a try. Although I think it is a 5-star book, it isn’t quite as good as Blackbird, but it will give you a good introduction to David Crookes.

August 19, 2011

Macro Power: Wildcard Find & Replace

I’m a great believer in using macros for routine tasks when editing. I know that a macro cannot ponder whether a word should be capitalized or not. I understand that macros are dumb; macros can only do what they are programmed to do — nothing more, nothing less (which reminds me of Humpty Dumpty’s perspective on the meaning of words).

But macros can relieve me of the tedium of performing routine, mechanical tasks. To that end, I have spent thousands of dollars in developing macros for my editing business and in buying macros developed by others for use in my business. In earlier articles, I discussed Editorium macros (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage), EditTools (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage), and PerfectIt (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage). Today, I want to revisit EditTools because of a major revision that has occurred with the release of version 4: Wildcard Find & Replace.

Wildcards are the most powerful of all the search types that Microsoft Word can perform. Yet, for most editors, wildcards are difficult and dangerous. Jack Lyon, owner of The Editorium and author of many macros used by editors, wrote a great resource for learning about wildcards called “Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word.” It is free and well worth taking the time to go through.

But even with Jack’s contribution to our knowledge, wildcards remain both mysterious and difficult for many editors. That’s where EditTools version 4 (which is a free upgrade for current owners of any version of EditTools) comes into play. Now everyone can make use of wildcards.

Wildcard Find & Replace is for novice, intermediate, and advanced wildcard macro users. For advanced users, it brings the capability to test a wildcard macro before using it on the whole document, as well as the capability to save wildcard macros for future use.

For novice and intermediate users, in addition to the capabilities to save and test wildcard macros, Wildcard Find & Replace can help you build both the find and the replace criteria. Users do not need to wonder whether they are writing the criterion correctly; you choose from menus what it is that you want to do, and Wildcard Find & Replace fills in the correct language.

For detailed information on how the Wildcard Find & Replace macro works, visit the Wildcard Find & Replace help page at wordsnSync. While at the wordsnSync website take a look at the other power macros included in EditTools.

July 15, 2010

Aquiring Books for the TBR Pile: The Special Problem of eBooks

Avid readers are easily identified by the size of their TBR — to-be-read — pile: The bigger the list, the more likely the avid reader has crossed that fine line from avid read to avid hoarder. And ebooks are a special problem in this mix. But let’s begin at the beginning.

As my latest hardcover acquisitions were delivered by the post office, I decided it might be time to take a long, serious look at my TBR pile. The problem was that there were no spots available on my primary TBR bookshelf for these new books (only 2 this time, but I have several more due this month). My system isn’t scientific, but what it is, is this: When new books arrive, I put them on a top shelf because these are (supposedly) the books that are of most immediate interest to me and the ones that I think I will get to shortly. (Many, but not all, are added to my On Today’s Bookshelf articles, On Today’s BookshelfOn Today’s Bookshelf (II), and On Today’s Bookshelf (III).) But to add them to that shelf means that a book or two have to be moved from the shelf. Room is limited.

So now I have moved a couple of books off the primary TBR shelf and into the vast stacks of TBR. Perhaps I’ll get to the books moved, perhaps not — at least that is what I am finding. I currently have more than 200 hardcover books in my TBR pile and on my TBR shelf. And as I note, that is just my hardcover books.

Which brings us to the special problem of ebooks. Yes, ebooks are a special problem because they take up virtually no space — just a bunch of bits and bytes, digits if you will, on a disk that can store gigabytes of digits. And so that TBR pool steadily grows. I looked this morning and I have more than 300 TBR ebooks, and that pile keeps growing.

What happens is that I read an ebook from the TBR pile and discover that I really like the particular author’s style. So rather than picking up another book from the TBR pile, I go buy other books from this liked author and read them. Not only hasn’t my ebook TBR pile declined by more than the one book, it has likely grown as I’ve added more to it while reading the like author’s books. Of course, if I discover that the author is terrible (sadly, a not uncommon finding with ebooks), then I not only stop reading the current ebook, but I tend to remove the author’s other books from the TBR pile. But they don’t disappear; they are still in some ebook zip file on my hard drive, just no longer in my TBR pile.

But unlike the hardcover TBR pile in which each hardcover book was purchased for money — definitely, one would think, an incentive to actually open the book and at least try reading it — I discovered that a good 80% (and probably closer to 85%) of the ebooks in my ebook TBR pile cost me nothing — they were freebies. This represents another problem or two.

First, it means that I am relentlessly adding to my TBR because it doesn’t cost me anything to do so. But that also means that the author hasn’t received any benefit. The author can’t receive any benefit until I actually read the ebook and discover how truly great the author is (we can only pray and hope). But, second, it also means that what was at the top of last week’s ebook TBR list because it was the most recently acquired, is now lost somewhere down the list, and unless it has a catchy title, there isn’t anything about the ebook to move it up the list.

That is a distinct difference between an ebook and a hardcover in my two TBR piles. Even a hardcover that I haven’t yet read although I bought it 8 months ago has a good chance of being the next book I read from that pile. The cover can attract me as I glance over the stack or the title can catch my eye as I rapidly skim the pile. With ebooks, that is much harder. Covers are often so amateurish that they are a turn off rather than a turn on. And it isn’t easy to skim covers or even titles. Finally, let’s face it, few books — e or p — really have great, catchy titles. Titles are the last bastion of the great marketer and few of us are great marketers.

So when does the TBR pool become so overwhelming that one says “Stop!” It’s easy with my print books because they cost me money and require space to store and I can rationally (although I have yet to do it) give those books the old Clint Eastwood make-my-day squint and say, “Enough! No more buying of books until I read 50 of these books!” But that moment never comes with ebooks, especially with free ebooks. There is no cost and no storage problem.

Consequently, ebook authors are disserved by readers like me. They get rewarded if I actually read and like their book because I will then immediately buy and read nearly everything else they have written. But that is the problem — they need to get read in the first place, and the only way to do that is to be at the top of the list, which is itself nearly impossible. An ebook TBR is like the drowning pool.

I have to admit that part of the problem is the poor quality of so many ebook offerings. I want to hedge my bets and make sure I have plenty of choices because of every 10 ebooks I acquire, I am certain that 8 or 9 will be trashcanned within the first 30 pages of reading. (In case you wonder why, take a look at some past articles that can be found under the tag Professional Editor, such as On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake!)

eBooks are a special TBR problem. I’m not sure how authors can solve it. It is truly a Catch-22: If you don’t offer a book for free, who will sample your work but if you do offer it for free, how can you know it will ever be read as opposed to hoarded? I suppose if you develop a reputation for quality that would help, but getting the word out that your writing is quality is tough. At least in my case, my ebook TBR pool is begging for a reliable solution.

January 29, 2010

The eBook Wars: The Price Battle (II) — Starbucks 1, Publishers 0

On January 23, 2010 The New York Times had a front-page article titled, “On Kindle’s List, the Best Sellers Don’t Necessarily Need to Sell.” The article went on to discuss the phenomenon with which most savvy ebookers are familiar: many of the “bestsellers” on any ebook bestseller list are free titles. More important to publishers is that many of those bestsellers are always-free public domain books, not paid-for ebooks being given away temporarily as promotions.

The article went on to discuss publisher approaches to freebies, how freebies are promotional, and other good reasons why giving away an ebook is good and/or bad. (Sadly, the article neglects to mention some of the best sources for free ebooks such as MobileRead and Feedbooks. Free ebooks at these two sources are well-formatted and generally well-edited by a caring community.)

Let me say upfront that I like free ebooks–afterall, who doesn’t like free. Free ebooks have introduced me to authors whose work I never would have read otherwise. But let me also say that with rare exception, I have not proceeded to buy other books of the new authors I have liked. (I do, however, buy a lot of ebooks and hardcovers — more than 100 of each type in 2009.)

Free ebooks are a two-edged sword for publishers and authors. On the positive side, it introduces readers to authors they might not otherwise have read. In my case, it introduced me to David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington Series, and now I buy all of his books in hardcover. On the other hand, it also introduced me to Fiona McIntosh, author of the Quickening Series. I liked her writing but have not bought either of her newest two books (books 1 and 2 of her Valisar Trilogy) because the publisher set the ebook prices higher than the paperback prices.

So, problem #1 is that many publishers still have no clue about what differentiates an ebooker from a print copy buyer. In the case of David Weber, Tor/Baen gave away older Weber ebooks and reasonably priced new ebooks, thereby gaining a new reader, whereas for Fiona McIntosh HarperCollins/Eos gave away the ebook then threw away the reader with excessive pricing.

Problem #2 is that publishers are creating reader pricing expectations. Readers expect that sometime down the road an author’s newer books will become freebies too, so why buy now, especially at exorbitant pricing. Once the impulse buy is lost, readers tend to forget the author and move on. Yes, the Times article quoted some success stories, but remember this: It is still very early in the ebook revolution (ebooks account for only 5% of the current book market) and what happens today doesn’t indicate what will happen tomorrow. Let me repeat: The ebook bestseller lists are stacked with freebies, not paid-for ebooks.

Let’s consider consumer thinking for a moment. Many people rush to their Starbucks and plop down $4 for a coffee. Within minutes the coffee and the $4 have disappeared, neither to ever be seen nor savored again. This is the Starbucks law: Make the product a one-time consumable and require new payment for the next one-time consumable.

Contrast consumers’ willingness to buy the coffee with their willingness to pay for ebooks. An ebook, unlike the coffee, can be savored over many hours and can be resavored 2 years later. Read that $5 ebook 5 times, and each reading has cost $1; try drinking that same cup of coffee twice let alone 5 times — it simply can’t be done. The coffee is $4 for a one-time thrill whereas an ebook is multiple thrills that cost less each time. This is the anti-Starbucks law: Make the product consumable multiple times  with each consumption costing less. Yet, consumers balk at paying for an ebook and publishers feed the freebie frenzy.

Clearly, publishers aren’t making their case about value very well. Isn’t there something amiss when Starbucks can convince someone to part with $4 for a one-time, short-lived thrill but publishers can’t convince anyone that their product has greater value because it is a long-lived thrill. Perhaps the time has come for publishers to demote the bean counters and promote those who give value to their product. There is no financial future in free books for any publisher or author.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: