Saturday, June 16, 2012

Become an E-Book Author ... Make Money From Your Knowledge!

"E-Book" is short for Electronic Book---an organized set of content delivered in an electronic format. There are many different types of e-books including packaged executables, PDF, and formats for the handheld computer.

As with so many of the original e-books, your e-book doesn't have to be about Making Money or Internet Marketing---people are interested in many other things. What makes an e-book valuable to a wide audience is that it provides information that people cannot easily find elsewhere.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of writing numerous printed books and working on several electronic publications. From what I've seen, the e-book medium supports the greatest creative flexibility. Images can come alive, you can provide interactive forms and content, the user can access remote databases, and you can support dynamic updates whenever the content changes. There are, however, several steps involved in the process to properly develop and promote an e-book to your audience.

The Process

When developing an e-book, you have to perform several important steps to create quality content. Each step allows you to fine-tune your idea and the end-product so that readers will learn from and enjoy the content you provide.

- Brainstorm an Idea

Ideas are cheap, but good ideas take time to develop. To develop a good idea, you have to jot down as many ideas as possible, then go through the list to make sure that:

* you're interested in the idea;

* you're knowledgeable on the topic;

* you're hitting the greatest, potential market;

* people will purchase the information; and

* you can market to those interested.

Once you reduce the list to a few solid choices, go back through and examine the remaining topics to determine which topics you can write, by:

* determining what you know about the topic;

* performing market research to ensure that you have a market and an angle for that market; and

* performing competitive research to find your competition's products, successes, failures, and target markets.

While fine-tuning your product, remember that people will buy the product if it:

* solves a problem;

* improves an existing product;

* hits on a hot trend;

* creates a new niche; or

* fills a current need.

- Develop an Outline

Once you come up with the idea, you'll have to create an outline or table of contents to develop the idea. The best way I've found to do this is to break the idea down into blocks of contiguous information---similar to assembling a pyramid. At the top is the IDEA with each successive level providing a more detailed sequence of points that ultimately explain the top-level IDEA.

The outline itself should be at least four levels deep so that you can understand what you'll say for each section or chapter. Research each section and collect pertinent information so that you can develop a coherent outline and understand the depths of what it is you are writing.

- Develop the First Draft

The first draft is merely a "brain dump." Follow your outline and write as much as possible about each section. Don't worry about format, spelling, or grammar at this point, as you'll focus on resolving those issues later.

- Substantive Edit

A substantive edit is a review of the manuscript where you fine-tune the content. You have to make sure that the content is complete, contains pertinent information for the topic, and provides enough relevant information to explain the topic. At this point, you can perform additional research to verify the content or enhance the information for the reader.

- Content/Technical Review

Find some experts in your manuscript's topic area and have them review it for accuracy and readability. This type of review ensures that the information is correct and that the target audience will be able to understand the content. Many times, experts will take credit in the acknowledgements as opposed to a fee, but this is something you'll have to work out with them.

- Second Draft

The second draft takes into account the information from your reviewers as well as changes you need to make based on your own review of the content. Once this draft is complete, take a day or two off to give your brain a break. This way, when you return to the manuscript, you'll be fresh and able to catch any mistakes that you would've otherwise missed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Brief History of the Book

I. What is a Book?

UNESCO's arbitrary and ungrounded definition of "book" is:

""Non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers".

But a book, above all else, is a medium. It encapsulates information (of one kind or another) and conveys it across time and space. Moreover, as opposed to common opinion, it is - and has always been - a rigidly formal affair. Even the latest "innovations" are nothing but ancient wine in sparkling new bottles.

Consider the scrolling protocol. Our eyes and brains are limited readers-decoders. There is only that much that the eye can encompass and the brain interpret. Hence the need to segment data into cognitively digestible chunks. There are two forms of scrolling - lateral and vertical. The papyrus, the broadsheet newspaper, and the computer screen are three examples of the vertical scroll - from top to bottom or vice versa. The e-book, the microfilm, the vellum, and the print book are instances of the lateral scroll - from left to right (or from right to left, in the Semitic languages).

In many respects, audio books are much more revolutionary than e-books. They do not employ visual symbols (all other types of books do), or a straightforward scrolling method. E-books, on the other hand, are a throwback to the days of the papyrus. The text cannot be opened at any point in a series of connected pages and the content is carried only on one side of the (electronic) "leaf". Parchment, by comparison, was multi-paged, easily browseable, and printed on both sides of the leaf. It led to a revolution in publishing and to the print book. All these advances are now being reversed by the e-book. Luckily, the e-book retains one innovation of the parchment - the hypertext. Early Jewish and Christian texts (as well as Roman legal scholarship) was written on parchment (and later printed) and included numerous inter-textual links. The Talmud, for example, is made of a main text (the Mishna) which hyperlinks on the same page to numerous interpretations (exegesis) offered by scholars throughout generations of Jewish learning.

Another distinguishing feature of books is portability (or mobility). Books on papyrus, vellum, paper, or PDA - are all transportable. In other words, the replication of the book's message is achieved by passing it along and no loss is incurred thereby (i.e., there is no physical metamorphosis of the message). The book is like a perpetuum mobile. It spreads its content virally by being circulated and is not diminished or altered by it. Physically, it is eroded, of course - but it can be copied faithfully. It is permanent.

Not so the e-book or the CD-ROM. Both are dependent on devices (readers or drives, respectively). Both are technology-specific and format-specific. Changes in technology - both in hardware and in software - are liable to render many e-books unreadable. And portability is hampered by battery life, lighting conditions, or the availability of appropriate infrastructure (e.g., of electricity).

II. The Constant Content Revolution

Every generation applies the same age-old principles to new "content-containers". Every such transmutation yields a great surge in the creation of content and its dissemination. The incunabula (the first printed books) made knowledge accessible (sometimes in the vernacular) to scholars and laymen alike and liberated books from the scriptoria and "libraries" of monasteries. The printing press technology shattered the content monopoly. In 50 years (1450-1500), the number of books in Europe surged from a few thousand to more than 9 million! And, as McLuhan has noted, it shifted the emphasis from the oral mode of content distribution (i.e., "communication") to the visual mode.

E-books are threatening to do the same. "Book ATMs" will provide Print on Demand (POD) services to faraway places. People in remote corners of the earth will be able to select from publishing backlists and front lists comprising millions of titles. Millions of authors are now able to realize their dream to have their work published cheaply and without editorial barriers to entry. The e-book is the Internet's prodigal son. The latter is the ideal distribution channel of the former. The monopoly of the big publishing houses on everything written - from romance to scholarly journals - is a thing of the past. In a way, it is ironic. Publishing, in its earliest forms, was a revolt against the writing (letters) monopoly of the priestly classes. It flourished in non-theocratic societies such as Rome, or China - and languished where religion reigned (such as in Sumeria, Egypt, the Islamic world, and Medieval Europe).

With e-books, content will once more become a collaborative effort, as it has been well into the Middle Ages. Authors and audience used to interact (remember Socrates) to generate knowledge, information, and narratives. Interactive e-books, multimedia, discussion lists, and collective authorship efforts restore this great tradition. Moreover, as in the not so distant past, authors are yet again the publishers and sellers of their work. The distinctions between these functions is very recent. E-books and POD partially help to restore the pre-modern state of affairs. Up until the 20th century, some books first appeared as a series of pamphlets (often published in daily papers or magazines) or were sold by subscription. Serialized e-books resort to these erstwhile marketing ploys. E-books may also help restore the balance between best-sellers and midlist authors and between fiction and textbooks. E-books are best suited to cater to niche markets, hitherto neglected by all major publishers.

III. Literature for the Millions

E-books are the quintessential "literature for the millions". They are cheaper than even paperbacks. John Bell (competing with Dr. Johnson) published "The Poets of Great Britain" in 1777-83. Each of the 109 volumes cost six shillings (compared to the usual guinea or more). The Railway Library of novels (1,300 volumes) costs 1 shilling apiece only eight decades later. The price continued to dive throughout the next century and a half. E-books and POD are likely to do unto paperbacks what these reprints did to originals. Some reprint libraries specialized in public domain works, very much like the bulk of e-book offering nowadays.

The plunge in book prices, the lowering of barriers to entry due to new technologies and plentiful credit, the proliferation of publishers, and the cutthroat competition among booksellers was such that price regulation (cartel) had to be introduced. Net publisher prices, trade discounts, list prices were all anti-competitive inventions of the 19th century, mainly in Europe. They were accompanied by the rise of trade associations, publishers organizations, literary agents, author contracts, royalties agreements, mass marketing, and standardized copyrights.

The sale of print books over the Internet can be conceptualized as the continuation of mail order catalogues by virtual means. But e-books are different. They are detrimental to all these cosy arrangements. Legally, an e-book may not be considered to constitute a "book" at all. Existing contracts between authors and publishers may not cover e-books. The serious price competition they offer to more traditional forms of publishing may end up pushing the whole industry to re-define itself. Rights may have to be re-assigned, revenues re-distributed, contractual relationships re-thought. Moreover, e-books have hitherto been to print books what paperbacks are to hardcovers - re-formatted renditions. But more and more authors are publishing their books primarily or exclusively as e-books. E-books thus threaten hardcovers and paperbacks alike. They are not merely a new format. They are a new mode of publishing.