The Business of Words: The Art of Books

Yesterday, I attended the Business of Art event, in Peoria. I knew from the promotional materials that writing was not included as an Art but, as expected, I did learn a few things. In particular, I learned from Jenna Scifres that I really need to up my game when it comes to social media.

I want to whine that it is challenging for a writer to create behind the scenes video of what we do. It isn’t going to be very interesting if I post screenshots of text, right?

Actually, that isn’t true. I can think of all kinds of things I can video, or upload as still photos.

Like someone recently asked me what I do with my thumb drives. I can answer that both in terms of what I store on them and how I keep from losing them. And, I can talk about where I use them and how I organize what is on them. Believe me, I can actually make that interesting.

Jenna photographs her tools and how she uses them. I could certainly photograph the tools I use. I use a plethora of databases and writing techniques that, believe it or now, would photograph well.

My art of Writing was overlooked by the Business of Art event. This year.

I am dying to replicate the event from the viewpoint of the writer. Writers are artists. Writing is an art.

Writers also need art. The writer who can create an artistic dust jacket is rare. I have never found the courage to even try. I opt instead for cookie-cutter jackets, sometimes decorated with my own photographs. Anything to escap

But, when I teach self-publishing, I fill the room with books. We look at books. We examine books. We talk about how graphic artists, photographers and artists of all kinds add value to books. With the exception of the artist who is self-publishing their own work, books need art.

I recently discussed this in my six-part series on the six hats a self-publisher wears. The one place where self-publishers skimp is on the art of designing a book, inside and out.

Nearly every print-on-demand publishing concern offers templates anyone can use as book covers. I have seen artists selling book covers, independently from book content. Yes, even for self-published books. And why not? Jacket designers have long been employed in the book industry.

People who love books love well-designed books. I fell immediately out of love with digital publishing as soon as I saw the original eBook reader. It was as elegant as a typewritten page. There was no style, quite literally. (That’s a pun for anyone who knows that text Styles are the key to creating beautiful books!)

There is room for style, design, creativity in all self-published works. I would even contend there is a dire need for it. A book—any book–is more than words.

The glut of self-published works are creating books that all use the same margins, fonts, headers and footers. Their covers are exactly the same except for maybe a random original photograph. Most self-published books (I venture to say without researching the statistics) are published in monotone black-and-white. With no art, whether it be graphic design or photographs or original art, there is no need for color. Black text on a white background is sufficient.

I cry fowl! I crave beautifully designed books. I crave books with original design.

I crave Art when I look at a book. I expect it to be there. Nay, I demand it.

I was disappointed that my entire area of Art was overlooked by the Business of Art this year. Maybe it will be different next year, or maybe I just need to create the Business of Words.



Simplifying the technical

Self-publishing requires some technical skill. But, even the most basic word-processing software offers what you need.

I came across this 197-page manual written specifically to teach writers how to self-publish. Not only is it poorly done, this is the third edition.

My goal is to help you avoid this kind of publication. It is embarrassing.

Plus, this type of book gives self-publishing a bad name. If this author knew as much as she claims to know, her own book would not look like that. I will help you avoid these pitfalls.

The other criticism I have with this book is that it is largely a sales tool. The dollar sign appears 73 times in this alleged “book.”

I don’t consider that a book. But, you can certainly make a 197-page advertisement if you want.

Just, please, learn to make it without unprintable characters. Let me show you how. Register now at EventBrite.


Self-publishing: hat #4

Every self-publisher wears six hats. Six. It’s not an option. That’s how it is.

  1. Writer
  2. Editor
  3. Graphics
  4. Technical Layout Designer
  5. Marketing
  6. Coordinator

Even if you plan to provide self-publishing services for others, you need to know the process. You need to wear six hats.

Hat #1: Writer

Hat #2: Editor

Hat #3: Graphics

Hat #4: Technical Layout Designer

The technical layout designer is the one who makes it all look pretty and function well for the reader. There are specific parts to a book. Readers expect to see those parts. The designer incorporates text, graphics and photographs to build a book.

The one rule most people break is the rule that stipulates whether the first page of a book needs to be on the right, or the left. Yes, it does matter. One new self-publisher on the scene forces your book to begin on the correct page, regardless of whether you created it to do so, or not.

That matters. That matters tremendously.

Moving the first page, either forward or backward, one page, means all your layout will be in mirror image when the book is printed. Your page numbers will be on the “wrong” side of the page. Pages you have left blank intentionally in order to keep your pagination attractive, will suddenly be on the wrong side.

Graphic Layout

Once you have graphics, put your Designer hat on. Where do graphics go? How do you make text wrap around an image? What graphics resolution does the printer need? What graphics mode do they require?

Page Layout

Publishing companies provide you with a template. But, a savvy designer quickly learns to understand and adapt the template to create a beautiful book. Making those adaptations requires unique computer skills.

Layout includes choosing fonts and embedding them. It requires a keen understanding of fonts and font decoration, deciding what margins to use, how many spaces equal a tab, and so much more.

Never select text and change the font.

Never use menus to apply fonts, font sizes, font colors, font styles, paragraph or alignment, or lists.

Always apply styles instead.

And, then when you are done, save your template and copyright it. Protect your work.


Six hats. One book. Let me show you how.  Register today.

Next time …Marketing


Self-publishing: hat #3

Every self-publisher wears six hats. Six. It’s not an option. That’s how it is.

  1. Writer
  2. Editor
  3. Graphics
  4. Technical Layout Designer
  5. Marketing
  6. Coordinator

Even if you plan to provide self-publishing services for others, you need to know the process. You need to wear six hats.


Hat #3: Graphics

Most books need some kind of graphics. If nothing else, the cover needs some sort of visual design. A book should look good, inside and out.

You have two choices. You can create images yourself, or you can use someone else’s graphics.

Either way, graphics need to be copyrighted and that copyright needs to be embedded in your images. This is true whether you create the images, buy them, or use free ones. The copyright information explains who can copy—and reuse–your images. Each image needs to be copyrighted and uploaded along with your publishing package.

This information needs to be embedded into every graphic you use. It is what protects your images, or grants you permission to use someone else’s images.


 NEVER copy and paste an image into a document. NEVER drag an image into your book. Always use Place (Adobe) or Insert (Office).


Six hats. One book. Let me show you how.

Next time …Designer


Self-publishing: put your six hats on

Every self-publisher wears six hats. Six. It’s not an option. That’s how it is.

  1. Writer
  2. Editor
  3. Graphics
  4. Technical Layout Designer
  5. Marketing
  6. Coordinator

Even if you plan to provide self-publishing services for others, you need to know the process. You need to wear six hats.

Hat #1: Writer

Books usually have words. Sometimes the message is pure graphics like a coloring book, an art book or a photo book.

You still need to write the bits that make up a book. There is text for the cover. There is even more text for a dust jacket. There is copyright text.

There are specific styles to writing every kind of text. Adhere to the basic rules, and you can get your book into bookstores. Ignore rules and stores may decline to carry a book you have self-published and customers may reject it.

Your book will begin as a text file. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright law automatically protects your original document from the moment you create it in a tangible form. But who are “you”? You need to embed your identity in the document.

Embed your identification into every text file. Your words belong to you. But, you need to embed your identification within the file, connecting that file to you.



Six hats. One book. Let me show you how.

Next time …Hat #2: Editor


Stop writing! Start Organizing!

A lot of us jot down ideas and save them until the rest of the story shows up. If you have been doing that, stop writing—and start organizing.

It’s exhilarating to get in the zone and start writing. It feels good and, after all, writing is the whole point.

But, if all you do is jump from one snippet to another, it is time to stop it. Collate your ideas. Can you even find them? Collect them. Organize them. Sift through them.

Chances are there are some treasures among the note cards, Applewriter disks, stickie notes, IBM Displaywriter “toaster” floppies, composition books, Zip disks and bar napkins. But, if you can’t find them, how do you even know?

Take some time and sort through what you have before adding to your personal collection. Don’t write another paragraph until you put the existing words to work, or delete them.

Finish something. Anything. Keep working until you actually write something complete. It could just be a short story. By New Year’s, it could be a novel.

So where do you start? The simplest way is to pick a system, or create one. That’s going to take some time. But, you have to do it or you will never bring the words together that hold a story, and you will never toss out the fun ones that are taking up space but will never become anything.

The perfect system does not matter. In fact, it does not exist. Years ago, when I lived on the East Coast, I sat through an entire meeting of the Boston Computer Society that focused on the perfect way to organize a hard-drive. They were new and we were convinced there was a way to control all that data that was now stored in one place.

In fact, our final exam when I earned my Personal Coordinator Certificate from University of Southern Maine-Portland consisted of removing a floppy drive, replacing it with a hard-drive which we then formatted, installed a DOS operating system on complete with an directory system.

The BCS never came up with a solution. If our USM hard-drive functioned, we passed.

There is no perfect solution. There is only one that make sense to you and has the longest life possible.

Wait for it…let’s take a fieldtrip!

cropped-hack.gifLet’s figure out a way to collect all those words. First, pick a storage system that will have a very long life. Plain text is best. It survives. BBEdit is my favorite for the Mac and Wordpad is good for PCs.

If you are a little more sophisticated, store ideas in an spreadsheet. Create categories and label a tab for each. The more you know about how to use the Outline feature in Excel, the better. But spreadsheets are great for rearranging information.

I love me a good database but that’s probably more work than most writers want to create and work with.

Next, figure out a way to keep everything together. Most of us use clouds these days and, unlike the old BCS groups, we relish the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect organizing system. Just pick a cloud and organize any way that makes sense to you.

Then learn to use tags. You can attach tags to any kind of file. With Word, use the Tag field when you choose Save As.


So, collect your bits and pieces. Convert them to some file you find easy to work with. Then turn your collection into a finished piece.






Building a book

Writing a book is about more than writing a book. We treasure books. We understand how to read books. A book is more than words. It can, and should be, an interactive experience.


Lulu Author Ray C. Freeman published the FIRST EVER Augmented reality pop-up book! His book features virtual three-dimensional artwork by eighteen artists. Learn more about Ray’s book Pop Up (AR)t A Technology Enhanced Publication here:


Lulu Author Suzanne Conboy-Hill’s new book Let Me Tell You a Story is geared towards individuals with literacy difficulties. Her book is a collection of short literary fiction and poetry, exploring themes of relationships, disability, loss and vengeance. All sound tracks are accessed by scanning an QR code. Lulu is proud to be part of this wonderful project! . Learn more here:

hackFieldtrip! Making a QR code is easy and younger people love them. I used QRcode Generator. There are several out there but this is one that lets you create something more decorative than the traditional black-and-white QR code.


You just type in your web address and your QR code is generated. You can alter the shape 14 different ways and choose colors for foreground and background. You can embed your logo in the center. Mine is a big long so it isn’t as pretty as it could be. Save it. Use it like any graphic. People scan it with their smartphone, using any QR code scanner. Your website pops up. You can direct QR users to a specific page, or to your website. In my case, I used my WordPress blog instead of my website. Have fun. Share yours! I’d like to see your QR code!

You can do really interesting things with books. Self-publishing has moved way beyond what your local copy shop can handle.

Yes, I am biased. I prefer Lulu. I admit it. I don’t work for them. I publish through them for myself and others. They offer hardcover and other options you just can’t get from other publishing companies.





Gimme a pipe

One unresolved self-publishing issue is pipes. Browse an old copy of PC Magazine from 1993 and you’ll see that the pipe concept has been around for a long time. Basically, for those who don’t want to click-and-read, it’s a method of moving digital information from one place to another.

Whether you are self-publishing for someone else, or hiring someone to self-publish for you, pipes matter. How do you get your information into the cyber bookstore?

The person who will receive the royalties needs a self-publishing account. That person sets up their tax information, designates what account should receive the royalties, and a host of other bits of data.

The person who actually uploads the content of the book and the book cover needs access to that same account.

So if you hire someone to format your file for any kind of a book, they need to have access to your account. If you are an author, do you really want to give your Createspace or Lulu password to someone you hire? The author’s account contains credit card information, which is actually pipe in from

Once a client accesses an author’s Createspace account they have full access to edit the account so that all royalties are deposited in the client’s account, instead of the author’s.

Someone needs to invent a way for editors and layout personnel to access a self-publishing author’s account without giving them full credit card, and other payment, access.

As editors and design staff, we need to inform authors that they need to help us advocate to protect their payment data.

No client has ever asked if I am bonded before giving me their passworded information. They don’t ask for legal contract wording to protect them.

I am concerned about the liability on my part. How do I protect myself? If uploaded data is less than perfect, I need to see the online viewer only accessible via passworded access.

All self-publishing companies need to address this issue.

How do you handle this? As an author, do you give out your password to editors and layout providers?

As an editor or designer, do you log in with authors’ passwords?



Slow down…you publish too fast

I am fully aware that this may sound contradictory but, seriously, slow down your process! Don’t leap at publishing. You are likely to regret it. You need a plan.

It’s true that you can literally upload your words and see your book listed on Amazon and other sites within minutes. Okay, maybe an hour, by the time you fill in all the information and setup your royalty payment system.

But, it’s fast. It’s real fast. It’s…too fast!

Coordinating publication is not always as precise as one might like, unfortunately. A book may not literally be available as an eBook the very moment that it is available as a print book. Those are two different delivery systems. You can come close. You might even make it happen. But, chances are you won’t flick a switch and both will go online simultaneously.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter.

Unless you are a world famous author, readers are probably not poised at their keyboards, ready to hit the buy button the moment your book appears like they are when concert tickets go on sale. If, they are, I’d like to hear about your experience.

But, seriously, slow down. Take a beat.

Before you upload anything, create a schedule. Yes, a schedule. You are going to need to coordinate your marketing efforts based on that schedule.

I currently have a client who has an August release date on a book we started working on in January. I admire that. It’s smart planning. He teaches, does public speaking and podcasts. He has set a realistic expectation.

There are issues that you need to deal with that take time. You need to test that your text appears the way you thought it would. You need to make sure your cover art looks good. If not, you need to revise and upload—maybe numerous times until you get things just perfect.

Did you think your book was going to have text on the spine? It has to have a minimum number of pages in order for that to happen.

hackIf your book is too slender for a spine, you need to add more pages. But, don’t just add blank pages. Get creative. Add a worksheet. Create a crossword puzzle using words from the book. Create pages for Notes. Add reviews. Add pages talking about other books or services you offer.

Createspace recommends that you take the time to buy a copy of your print book so that you can proof it. Lulu requires it. The process varies.

I highly recommend ordering a copy and looking it over meticulously. In my rush, I once spelled not one, but two, words wrong on the back cover of one of my own books. I’m always experimenting with decorative page number art. Sometimes it looks fabulous in print. Sometimes, not so much.

While you’re waiting for the book to arrive, you should have been writing press releases, planning your email campaign, organizing a social media blitz and creating landing pages. How many? Maybe 27. Maybe 4. As Jay Berkowitz, author of Ten Golden Rules of Online Marketing says, there is no magic number or perfect campaign. You have to constantly test to see what works with your customers for a given product. And, what works for one book may not work at all for the next one.

Then there are other time-sensitive issues like creating a pre-release campaign, or other distribution options that require a book be exclusive for a certain period of time. Read the fine print.

Your job is not done when you upload your book. You need to set up book-signings, rub elbows with other more experienced writers and connect, connect, connect.

My favorite book is not a current one. It is the Cluetrain Manifesto. I highly recommend reading it but I will give you the short version: business is a conversation. You need to be conversing with people. Some of them will become your customers. Some will become your Chief Enthusiasm Officer.

You need to build in time for executing your plan. Setting aside 45 minutes to upload your book is such a tiny part of what you need to be doing. As a writer, you have the advantage. A great deal of what needs to be done involves writing.

hackJust slow it down a bit. Create a spreadsheet. Use an Airtable Blog Editorial Calendar. Write like mad and schedule posts via a social media management tool. Create a Facebook Page. Your Wall where you post pictures of your kitten is not a Facebook Page. It is a Wall and serves a different purpose. You need a Page.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll start talking about being Serial. I’ve used the Serial concept in so many ways over the years. You may find it helpful, too.

cluetrainIn the meantime, I’ll give you a reading assignment. Talk about innovations in publishing, the Cluetrain Manifesto is available online for one penny.I bought the hardcopy back when it first came out, some 15 years ago.