Friday, October 30, 2009

Oidhche Shamhna

Halloween is my muse's favorite holiday because she like to see what people reveal about themselves on that one night, when they put on a costume and give themselves permission to be ridiculous. All the hidden fears, desires and childhood fantasies are on display. Children become powerful superheroes with the ability to control the universe. Housewives become dangerous vixens. Business men show off their garter-belts. Creatures from horror movies wander the streets, hunting for candy instead of blood. Grown women dress up like cowboys, complete with cigar and six-shooter. Suddenly, everyone is an outlaw.

Halloween is also called Oidhche Shamhna, or the eve of samhain, which is the Celtic new year (Nov. 1). The Celts built bonfires to celebrate the death of the old year, in which bones were burned (bone-fires). It was said that the veil between the world became thin as the year turned, so spirits and the ghosts of loved ones could come for a visit with a living. Not all of those spirits were friendly though, so the Celts decorated gourds with symbols and scary faces to keep the bad ghosts away. People also wore masks to confuse the evil spirits.

"The Celts really knew how to throw a party," my muse said while trying on one of my vintage hats.

"You were there?" I asked, startled to think of my muse at a party 2000 years ago.

She shrugged. "Of course. Why are you so surprised? I've been to all the hot spots." She adjusted the hat's veil and turned her head side to side while studying her reflection. "As soon as the sun set, the bonfires were lit and the feasting began. We dressed in our finest, danced in the light of the fire and sang songs to the gods. The music was incredible. I'll never hear better." She scowled and took off the hat, but almost ripped the veil when a snake got its fangs tangled in the netting.

"Sounds beautiful."

"It was. But I think I like today's celebrations better. Back then, people conformed to the traditions of the ceremony. Now, you can dress up any way you want and if you get arrested, so what? It's much more egalitarian now days."

"What are you going to dress up as?" I asked.

With a slow, almost wicked grin, she said, "A goddess of course."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A galley! A galley! We have a galley!

Sitting on my laptop's desktop is one beautiful, professional looking, although not yet polished, galley of the punk anthology, Punk Rock Saved My Ass. After many arduous months in which the designer was so slammed with work he couldn't see any glimmer of hope that he'd actually be able to make the galley, he put in several long nights and walla, a galley proof was finished.

Well, mostly finished. He still needs to insert the photographs and he's still unhappy with the cover (so much so I'm not allowed to show any of his ideas). Once the photos are added, he'll go back through and polish each page, looking for "orphans" and "widows." In book lingo, an orphan is when the first line of a paragraph sits all alone on one page, separated from the rest of the paragraph. A widow is when the last line of a paragraph sits all alone at the top of a page. Or as Wendy Woudstra wrote in her book design article for Ezine Articles, "an orphan has no past, a widow has no future."

Now I will send the galley to each author so they can examine their submission and make sure I didn't make any mistakes with their name, bio, or other facts. This is NOT the time to change the essay; this is strictly for checking accuracy. Once I have any notes back (within two weeks), the designer will add the photos and fix any design flaws. I will add the page numbers to the table of contents. Then the galley gets one more comb-through from the copy editor before going to the printer.

We should have an actual book in our hands by New Years.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Do you really want to be a niche market clone?

I've been thinking a lot about social networking and company branding, and I've decided that adhering too strictly to the dominant culture of your niche market is a very bad idea. Do you really want to be a niche market clone?

Most micro publishers embrace their niche market. How else can you compete with the big publishers? A niche market is specialized around a certain topic or population, like hang-gliding enthusiasts and the hearing impaired. It makes good financial sense to find your niche and market to those readers because you'll spend less money trying to compete with hundreds of thousands of books. I know one press who made a fortune publishing books to dentists and another press that specializes in law books for real estate agents. Medusa's Muse publishes "transformative memoir," which is a pretty broad term for my niche market, which gives me the flexibility I want while letting readers know we are THE place for good quality, true stories written by people who have changed their lives by embracing what scared them.

The trouble with focusing on a niche market is how that market can start to define you, the person. When your publishing niche requires you to behave, dress, and speak a certain way, then you may have a problem. If your comfortable dressing and behaving the way your niche likes, then go for it. Problem solved. But just because you're really excited about your books on Chinese antiques, that doesn't mean you have to wear white gloves and listen to classical music.

Don't let your market define who you are. Embrace your creative, eccentric self and use it to your advantage.

I would be curious about a person who stomped around a high dollar auction in her combat boots while looking at fine china. Or a person who was terrified of flying but loved airplanes. Those people would stick out in a niche market dominated by ladies in pearls or former airline pilots. And if you stick out, your books get noticed.

Of course it can back fire if you go too far (breaking a Ming vase because you stomped too hard in your boots could create some issues), and trying to rebel from your niche mold is just as insincere as forcing yourself to fit in. Find the happy balance between what your market needs and what you need.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And now a word from the Tech Guy

After I posted answers to the questions from a reader (see previous post), my tech guy sent me an email. "We need to talk."

It appears I was wrong about Ava Host having good tech support. They do, if you already know how to design and update a website. If you're a newby, it may not be the best choice for you. They have a great FAQ section on their website and a chat/forum to get help, but it can be difficult to find the info you need when you don't even know what question to ask.

As I said in my book, What You Need to Know to Be a Pro, go with the web hosting service your web master likes to use. If you're a newby and plan to do it yourself, then Go Daddy, or one of the other sites that has more personal tech support will probably work best for you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Questions from a reader

I received an email from a person who bought What You Need to Know to Be a Pro: The Start-Up Business Guide for Publishers and after reading it had a few questions. I'm posting his questions here because I think they may be helpful to others.

I'm curious as to how, for state tax reporting requirements, you note sales to non-profits such as libraries. Do you simply put $0 in your spread sheet for the tax part of the sale or do you also need additional backup materials from the library (or non-profit) confirming their non-profit status to attach to the invoice as proof?

Also, when you chose your domain for your website did you register it separately and then choose a web host or did you register it through your web host? Also, what was your process for choosing the web host you are with?

Finally, after you purchased your initial block of ISBNs from Bowker have you had to pay additional fees to keep your company information with them current?

This was my response:

Congratulations on starting your press. These are great questions. Thanks for asking. I will add these to the list for the next edition.

What State do you live in? When I sold to libraries here in California, they paid sales tax. The same was true when I sold to non-profits. If a non-profit says they don't have to pay sales tax, ask to see their resale license. But again, this applies to California. You should call your own State's Tax board for help. When I sell to bookstores, I do not collect sales tax because the bookstore has their own retail license and will collect sales tax directly from the book reader. Whenever I don't collect sales tax, I put a zero in the tax column. Sometimes I decide not to collect tax if I'm at a fair or conference as a type of promotion, but I still owe that tax to the State. So for my bookkeeping I put a zero in the tax column, but include a tax due amount at the end of that column so I know how much to pay the State.

I registered my domain name through my web host. Avahost was recommended to me by a web designer who had used them often and said their customer service was excellent. There are cheaper places, but I wanted the security of knowing if something went wrong with the site, I could contact a real human to help me solve it.

As for Bowker, yes, you do have to pay a fee every year for your catalog listing. I paid $25.00

I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me again if you have more questions.


These questions are very helpful to me and I appreciate so much when people take the time to ask. I file them all for the second edition of What You Need to Know to Be a Pro.

Plus, it's a thrill to know that my book is being used by people who are tackling their dreams and starting their own small press. I'm so glad I can help.

If you have a question, leave them as a comment on this blog, or send me an email.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I can't open the file of the first book I wrote back in 1998! Now what?

Remember all those lovely stories you wrote ten years ago and then saved on a disc because the stories showed promise and you didn't want to lose them? Always back up your files, you've been told, and you did. Good girl. Now it's ten years later and you'd like to drag out that old novel, dust it off, and see if there was indeed anything promising in there. Only one problem. You wrote that novel using Apple Works in 1999 and now your computer can't understand that language. Apple Works? What es dis Apple Verks you speek ov? I haf never heard ov Apple Verks.

No matter how much you try, or beg, or plead, or threaten you computer with imminent death, the computer can not recognize the file, and therefore is incapable of showing anything other than "xvnuoairtykhfklavjio hbr349p" when you open the file.

Ten years ago I finished my first novel, a memoir about my best friend Paul who died of AIDS in 1992. It began as a way to heal my own scars from his death and evolved into a story about the power of friendship over death. It is a very personal story to me, and whether or not anyone else ever reads it, I need to turn it into a bound book as a memorial to my friend.

I couldn't open the F*&$KING file.

Luckily I live with a tech guy. I do his laundry, so you'd think he'd have the time to fix my novel. Alas, he was swamped with multiple projects as well as finals at school, so had zero time to help (plus, any free time he has needs to be spent on the Punk book, not on a novel I wrote so long ago it's barely readable).

And then I was rescued by another techy friend, a Mac guy none the less. He took my files and after some maneuvering transfered my old files into something my computer could read: rich text file (rtf). Hooray for people who collect Macintosh products and know how to use them!

I have learned a very valuable lesson from this experience. Making a back-up of your files is good, but making at least one of those back-ups an rtf is better. Just because I'm using "Word for Mac" on my Macbook today doesn't mean that program will be able to read the words I'm writing in 10 years. Computer companies like to update word processing programs every couple of years (sometimes more) and with every update, your old files become less and less compatible.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to work on a novel that needs A LOT of editing. Let's just say I've learned a lot about writing in the last ten years (I hope). Maybe recovering old text files isn't such a good idea after all.

Thanks again, Scott.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why am I not promoting my own book?

I know I'm in trouble when my Muse puts on a suit. Dark blue with a red tie and black, shiny shoes. Her hair-snakes are pulled back into a severe pony-tale that wiggles down her back. She does not look amused.

"What did I do now?" I ask.

"Why haven't you been marketing your own book?"

I shrug. "In case you haven't noticed, I've been a little busy."

"Bullshit." She taps her foot and glares at me.


"Yes, bullshit. You're not that busy."

"Excuse me, Miss I-wear-a-power-suit-so-I-know-everything. I am in grad-school! I'm up to my eyeballs in homework and exams, plus I'm still a mom, in case you forgot, and I have a press to run. So yeah, I've been a little busy."

She sits down in my chair and puts her feet up on my desk. "Those are just excuses."

Now I'm getting mad. "Easy for you to say."

"You have enough time to do something every week to promote your own book, but you don't. You've tossed your book to the side and have focused solely on the punk anthology and school. If all you did was one small thing every week to promote your book, more people would be reading it. But instead you've shoved the box holding your books under the couch and act as if you never published it. Like your work doesn't matter." She looks directly into my eyes. "Your work matters."

"I know my work matters..."

"Prove it."

I sigh and sit across from her on the desk. "I really am busy right now..."

"How many places have you sent your play?"

"My play?"

"How many places have you submitted it?"


"Just one?"


"And how about your other play, the ten minute one? Where have you sent that?"

"A festival in New York."

"Have you heard from them?"


"What did they say?"

"They said no."

"Where did you send it after that?"

"Nowhere... it might need work."

She rolls her eyes. "Hah. Again, you act as if your work doesn't matter. You write volumes of pages, some of it good, and then stick it in a drawer and forget it. Just like you did you book, a book you dedicated an entire year of your life to. Why did you spend money printing it if you weren't planning to sell it?" A snake strains over her shoulder to see what is going on. My muse shoves it back impatiently. "All you have to do is one simple thing to market your book every week. That's it. Nothing expensive or too time consuming. Just one small thing. I'll bet you have time to do that."

"But what?"

Swinging her legs off my desk, my muse stands and walks to my book case where she pulls out a large, heavy book. "Pick a page and do what it says." She tosses the book on the desk where it lands with a startling bang.

I pick it up. "1001 ways to market your book."

"Do you even remember buying it."

"Yes. A long time ago. I hear there's a new volume."

"Why did you buy it if you weren't going to use it?"

I shrug.

"Just pick a page and do it. One thing every week." She stands beside me and leans against my shoulder. "Do it for me," she whispers.

One thing a week.

I open a page.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rain all the way from Japan

My muse is running down the street in her underwear, shouting, "Rain!" She is giddy with the smell of it, the feel of wind and rain all the way from Japan flowing on her skin. Her snakes are shivering in a frenzy, lapping up the rain drops with golden tongues, eyes wide in wonder because they forgot what rain smelled like. It's been too long since Northern California has felt rain, and now it seems that four years of drought is trying to break free in one glorious torrent in one stormy day.

The sound of rain on my roof soothes my nerves. I light a candle and watch rain drops run down the window pains, leaving long fingers of gleaming water. My muse is still outside, refusing to come in, even though snakes are cold blooded and if they had teeth they would be chattering. She squats beside the garden and watches the ground soak up the moisture so fast she can hear it hiss. The snakes answer. Rain... rain... rain... rain...

As you can see, rain stokes my creativity. I'll probably be up most of the night writing terrible poetry.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Freshly Printed Manuscript Pages, and One Lost Essay

After printing out the punk anthology on my laser printer, I held all 180 pages and inhaled their warm, inky, clean goodness. I love the smell of freshly printed work. The weight of the pages in my arms was comforting, my reward after three years of struggle to create this book. A validation of my vision. I was at last... done.

I showed the pages to Rick and he smiled, then said, "Now if I can just get the design part done!"

Yeah, that would be nice
. I nodded. "It will come. You're slammed with school right now. I know as soon as you have a chance, you'll finish it."

"Did you find a spot for N's story?" Rick asked.


"N. He wrote the story about the road trip."

"Road trip?"

"Don't you remember. He sent it kind of late and you said you should be able to fit it in."

"Um...?" I had no idea what story Rick was referring to. I went to my laptop and searched through my mail (this is why I love Google. That email program has saved my butt so many times after I've lost an email or essay!). After a few minutes, I found N's missing story. "Oh right. I remember this one."

"Can you use it?"

I read the essay quickly, remembering that it was good, but rough and needed work, work I forgot to do. Sigh... "Yeah. No problem."

Then I searched through my emails again, looking for any other essays I may have forgotten about. After three years of work on this anthology, I've read hundreds of essays, culled them down to about 25, and then worked on those remaining essays with each author for another 2 years. It is a tedious, confusing process at times. I'd send notes to each author, then forget which notes went to who. Did I tell Matt or Mike to add more sensory, emotional detail to the pivotal scene in his essay? Was it Jennifer or Jessica who needed to fill in more details about the moment she heard her favorite punk band? Happily it appeared that through that process, I'd only forgotten one, late submitted essay. What a relief!

Glancing once more at the lovely stack of freshly printed manuscript pages, I got to work on N's essay. Not done yet.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Identify the resources you'll bring to your business.

From Chapter 3 of the book, What You Need to Know to Be a Pro: The Business Start-Up Guide for Publishers, by Terena Scott.


Your resources are your money, personal talents, equipment, knowledge, and expertise that will help you and your business thrive. It's important to understand what resources you need for your business. All the talent in the world won't support your business without cash. Cash won't make up for talent. It takes a balance of resources for your business to thrive.

Before I became a publisher, I worked as a grant writer and program director for non-profits. Much of my time was spent managing and evaluating programs to make sure they were viable and financially sound. So many wonderful programs and projects were rejected from the beginning because they didn't start out with a clear understanding of what they needed to support the project. Or the programs slowly died because they didn't set up a strong enough structure to support the needs of the staff and clients.

Examining the gaps in available resources is a step organizations often skip, which is one of the reasons so many excellent programs shut down before they can really help anyone. Once the weak parts of a program are identified, the organization must determine the best way to address those weaknesses. Do they need additional funding for more training, to hire extra staff, or to contract with a translator? Can the administration keep up with the extra paperwork of a new program, or will they need extra support?

Once an organization identifies its needs, it must continue to regularly analyze its resources because things can change quickly: staff leave, grants end, overhead costs increase. And occasionally circumstances occur beyond an organization's ability to adapt. I once had to lay myself off and shut down the program I was managing when both of the program's primary funders changed their grant focus at the same time, cutting us from their future funding plans.

To create a thriving publishing business, you need more than just a desire to publish a manuscript. And you need more than money. You must start with a thorough understanding of what you HAVE and what you NEED to create your business, and a recognition of the gaps between those two.

It takes a lot of money to start a business, let alone launch a book, which is why the majority of start-up businesses, and many established companies, lack enough financial resources. Acquiring financing can be tricky, so you need to determine how you will finance your business before you begin. Do you have enough cash set aside for such an endeavor, or are you planning to use credit cards or get a loan? How much available credit do you have and how much can you reasonably use? Remember, credit is a loan. That means the money isn't really yours; you have to pay it back. How much can you borrow and still make the payments? Or maybe you have a rich uncle, or several friends, who'd like to invest?

Before you figure out a budget for your business, look at the resources you already have. Don't worry right now about how much publishing a book costs, we'll get into those details in Chapter 11. For now, look at your finances and understand how much you can realistically invest in your company. That will help you figure out how much you'll need to borrow.

I started with $3,000 cash (my prior year’s tax refund) and another $2,000 in credit. However, I was lucky, because I have talented friends who were willing to donate their time to the press, saving me thousands of dollars.
Talent can make up for weak finances, but not completely. Some things, like printing, cost money, period. But your personal talents and those of your friends can make up for some of the costs connected with publishing.

In Chapter 2, we looked at the various jobs connected with book publishing, like design and editing. If you can do some of those jobs yourself, you'll save money.
Here's one caveat to that idea, though. Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. It is very important to be bluntly honest with yourself while figuring out your resources. Don't assume since you're a good watercolor artist that you can design a book cover. Do you know what elements make a good book cover? If not, then cover design is not a resource you possess. However, if you've done some graphic art with a computer and know how to use Adobe Photoshop well, you probably can design your own cover, but only after you do some research into book cover design.

Go back to the previous chapter and take a look at all those required jobs in a publishing company. Which jobs can you do already? Which ones do you know a little about and could learn to do well with practice and research? Which ones do you know nothing about? And could a friend or acquaintance help with any of those jobs that you don’t know how to do?

Anything you already know is a resource. Everything else can become a resource once you identify where to get the help you need to fill those gaps.
Managing a business takes another set of skills separate from publishing, but they are just as important. Again, you need to figure out what you already know, what you can do yourself, what you need help with, and how other people can help you.

To start and manage a business you need

• A bookkeeper
• A marketing manager
• An accountant
• Someone to do customer service and fulfill orders
• Legal assistance
• A human resources manager if you have staff
• Computer support
• A production manager to oversee the creation of your product.

How many of those tasks can you do yourself and who will help you with the rest?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Lull

The Punk book deadline has been pushed to after the New Year and I can't proceed with any of my plans until the designer does his part. So now I wait... and sit... and spend too much time cruising Facebook and surfing from link to link within interesting articles on the net. Hours pass and I accomplish nothing, other than read about the idea that the semi-colon is "girly."

There isn't a "next book" to edit for the press, so for the first time since starting Medusa's Muse I have a break. It feels the same way as when you send your novel off to the agent or editor and are forced to wait for feedback before working on it. What do you do while you wait? Start work on another project? Read a book? Pick your nose?

My muse keeps nagging me about my novel and my play and the three short stories begging to be finished. "You have all this time right now. You should be WRITING."

I know,I know. I also have bookkeeping to do for Medusa's Muse and my own book I could be marketing better than I am. But I've lost my momentum, and even though I have the desire and creative spark fueling scenes for my stories, I can't seem to pick up a pen, or laptop, and get them down into actual words. Instead, I daydream dialogue.

Without a deadline driven whip at my back DEMANDING I get work done NOW, I can't be productive.

"I've lost my edge," I say.

My muse laughs. "I can't believe you sometimes."

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"Because you're so dramatic."

"I'm a writer. And I have a BA in drama. What do you expect?"

She pushes papers aside on my desk and sits. "You're recharging, that's all. You've spent the last two years being absolutely productive and focused, publishing two books, one of which you wrote, preparing for a third, all while going to graduate school, raising your child and writing a full length play. For goodness sake, girl, you need to relax a little." She picks up the Ballerina Barbie beside my laptop. "Plus, your grandmother died last month and you had surgery three weeks ago. Your heart and your body are still healing."

I watch her as she positions the doll into a perfect pirouette and balances it on the tip of her middle finger. The doll slowly begins to spin on point.

My Muse smiles as she watches the doll dance. "You worry too much about the outcome. Just write. Don't worry about finishing a story or getting it published. Now is the time to rest, create, recharge, and heal." With a delicate flip of her finger, the doll leaps into the air and lands on the desk where it holds its position for a moment, then falls across my laptop's keyboard.

I pick up the doll and smooth out her hair. "You may be right."

"I'm always right," my Muse says.