Why (and how) I just used BookBaby for digital publishing

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A couple of blogs back I shared the key points of a very informative presentation I had just heard by Brian Felsen, honcho of BookBaby, where he discussed the virtues of letting others (like BookBaby) do the grunt work when you are sending your book to Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and others.

So I tried it yesterday—I submitted an older, steady-selling book now used by many college classes as a textbook. We sell a lot of the paperback What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know, a $24.95 K-12 educational niche book that my firm publishes under the Education Communication Unlimited imprint. (It was written by Rosborg, McGee, and my brother, Jim Burgett). What prompted me to use BookBaby was the recent increase in sales of our .pdf digital version of the same book, at $20.

My thought: since mostly students will buy the .pdf version, why not modify that to mobi for Kindle and ePub for Nook and Smashwords (and iPad, etc.) for those wanting to have the text in and on their readers? At $19.99, the 35% (mostly) that we would earn in royalties is less income than our own versions—particularly our .pdf edition, which is kind of a goldmine. But will we sell twice as many new books, plus 28 books more to pay back (from the royalties) the BookBaby cost of $186 (the $149 package plus 74 pages over 250 at 50 cents a page)?

BookBaby doesn’t do any of the prep and promo, but here we had the book written, proofed, formatted in .doc or .pdf, and we had its original front cover all ready to go. (Alas, I had to stretch that .jpg cover to 550 pixels to meet their size requirements. I’ll discuss the quick way to get all this prep stuff together for ancillary publishers in my next newsletter, 7/10.) I also had to dig around and marry some text, but I found that pesky stuff already available too, like the author bios, a fetching description of the book, the original ISBNs, and the keywords.

So Brian’s claim that BookBaby is fast is sort of true. It took about 30 minutes to gather the info, set up an account (the usual stuff), and finish the submission form. (It’s a bit deceptive because to get this gem together took the authors, three of the top educators in Illinois, about four months to write, and a couple more months for us to get the cover and editing done, plus final formatting and proofing. At that point we had the paperback ready to print—and its digital derivative ready to sell in .pdf. So it was about six months and 30 minutes.)

But the 30 minutes for $186 to do a process we have done about 20 times for similar items sent to each of these three ebook houses, plus LSI and sometimes Lulu. Not a whit of difference once we caught on to the internal changes needed to make mobi and ePub look civilized (but never as attractive as the paperback). You can see our process at the prep and submission stages in How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.

My reaction to BookBaby? It’s easy to figure out and complete. They ask for the very same things you must provide if you go directly to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords—logically, since they’re filling in the same boxes. The difference is that, submitted by them, the converted text and cover have to look good when they emerge from Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, hands-free by you. And that may be worth the $149 because getting the text properly formatted is time consuming and sometimes vexing. (My full response is still incomplete, of course, because I have no idea yet how long it will take for BookBaby to get the product to the publishers and what it will look like. If there are problems there I will let you know in a follow-up blog.)

But there was another, disappointing surprise. Originally it was to cost $99 to get the book converted, submitted, and so on… But now for $99 you must have it in final ebook format (mobi- and ePub-acceptable) and they will just do the submission. That’s not much of a bargain. The price is up to $149 to get what I first read for $99. (I don’t quite see the value of going to the $249 premium version.) I hate pocket-emptying surprises even though I heard Felsen say this was likely to happen. I guess I was thinking, or hoping, it would happen in 2025.)

And an irksome procedural problem. I had to leave the computer for a few minutes in the middle of filling in the submission form, and when I returned the page had closed without a word saved. Nor was there a save box to keep what you had completed on the screen, or somewhere accessible. That should be corrected.

That’s it. A review without many teeth. Some annoyance, but overall it wasn’t much different than filling in, say, the Nook submission page (which is the easiest and fastest) except that I expect BookBaby will make my copy clean and pretty in print. I’m not sure if it’s worth $149 (or $186), but to get the money back is mostly my responsibility to let my K-12 crowd know of the new reader wonder when it’s available so my sales push past recompense into high and long profit. However, if I had no idea how to submit my own books this would be a huge bargain. As it is, it’s a bit like betting on the race favorite to place.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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A lifetime formula for selling 75% of the nonfiction you write

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If you want to sell almost everything nonfiction that you submit, including 75% of what you send to editors, here’s the not-so-secret formula:

• Before submitting any copy, first send a super query letter to the editor asking if she/he would be interested in your preparing and sending an article about ____. (If you’re unfamiliar with query letters, you might want to read 25 Professional Query and Cover Letters.)

• Then write and send the material only after you receive a positive reply and you understand specifically what the editor wants, how she/he wants it sent, and by when. (Also discuss photo details, if needed, and the photo submission protocol. Do this after you receive the “go-ahead” just mentioned.)

Why will that get you a 75% selling ratio? Because editors buy almost all that they request after reading the query, assuming, of course, that you can put the information on paper and get it in the editor’s hands in a timely fashion. What you send must be as good as the other articles in that publication. Most important, you aren’t going to waste your time researching, interviewing, and composing without knowing that it will be seriously considered for use by the editor. And because you will study other articles in that editor’s publication similar in topic or tone to what you will submit so you know the acceptance level and the editor’s tone and content expectations.

Then if you want to sell that article again and again, to lift your selling ratio to a 100%, 200%, or even greater ratio, though you wrote the core piece only once, you:

• Submit it to non-competing markets that buy simultaneously, like newspapers (that buy copy that’s not been in print nationally or within 100 miles in another newspaper), or

• Sell second (or reprint) rights to copy already bought and printed on a first-rights basis (usually magazines and journals; you must ask the editor about newsletters). After it appears in print in the primary target market, you send a copy of the clip (a copy of the printed article) and explain in an accompanying cover letter which publication bought first rights, when it appeared in print, and that you are offering second or reprint rights.

Does this formula work? It has for me 1,700+ times with freelance offerings (about a third in niched markets, most of the rest in travel). The process was also the theme of How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing, which appeared in five editions (last as Writer’s Digest Books’ Sell and Resell Your Magazine Articles)– all of the books now out of print, although the entire process in a slightly modified fashion is in the Travel Writer’s Guide. If the process didn’t work, the 100,000+ who bought those O.P. books would have let me know!

This is timely because I just released a 30-page how-to ebook report called “How to Get Your Niche Article in Print 75% of the Time in Magazines, Newsletters, Journals, and Newsletters” that gives many more details at every step. It costs $4.99 and is reader-ready from Kindle and Nook or from us in .pdf, all immediately downloadable.) This process can keep you in print and well fed almost forever. Another, related secret: you have to keep at it–the damn articles just won’t sell and write themselves! I slanted this ebook report toward a niche article (because the best, fastest, and safest book publishing income comes from niche markets) but it works just as well for anything queriable.

Somebody gets paid to fill the newspapers, magazines, reports, digital releases, and so on. The core of this not-so-secret is revealed above!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Lightning Source, CreateSpace, royalties, POD, and profits…

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Pete Masterson kindly agreed to my sharing a blog discussion response he sent (on 3/29) to the Linkedin Independent Book Publishers Association-IBPA group, to this question:

“Does Lightning Source pay royalties to independent publishers who use their print services in the same way that CreateSpace does?”

Pete is the author of a definitive guide on book design, Book Design and Production, which Dan Poynter describes as “A masterful work…. The industry has needed a book like this for years.”

Says Pete, author of the following (For more information, see www.aeonix.com):

Lightning Source (LSI) is a printer with a link to Ingram Book Group for distribution. LSI does not pay royalties. Books are sold either directly from LSI or through Ingram, revenue is collected, printing costs are deducted along with the discount rate you select (between 20% and 55%) and you (as the publisher) are paid the difference.

”The ‘downside’ of working with Lightning Source is that you must be a publisher, not simply an author. That requires setting up a publishing entity (that is owned by the author) to handle the publishing duties. I have many clients who have done exactly this.

CreateSpace (owned by Amazon.com) operates in dual modes. In one case, CS is a subsidy publisher and they offer the full range of author services, including typesetting, editorial work, and cover design. (These services may not be of the highest quality, so do careful research and consider your exact goals for your project. CS tends to be a lower cost subsidy publisher and may be a good choice for the “right” projects.)

“CS also operates as a printer. If an author-publisher provides an ISBN (instead of obtaining one from CS), then CS will print books at a reasonable cost. You can release CS books for sale via Amazon.com with a 40% discount from list price. If you use a CS-provided ISBN, you can get “extended distribution” (beyond Amazon) with a 60% discount from list. However, the ‘extended distribution’ is achieved by CS signing your book up with Lightning Source (with a 20% discount), so it’s very hard to justify using CS in that mode.

”Indeed, if you sign up with Lightning Source, and put your book out with a 20% discount, non returnable, you are likely to make more NET revenue than if you provided the 55% discount, fully returnable terms that are the normal trade book standard.

“Books sold with the short discount are very unlikely to ever be purchased by a physical (bricks and mortar) bookstore, but all such books are ‘automatically’ listed by Amazon and almost all other online booksellers. But guess what? For most titles, the physical bookstores are unlikely to stock a small/self-published title in any event.

“For more information on this short discount approach, see Aaron Shepherd’s POD for Profit.”

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15 Publishing Tips from Published Professionals

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Let me share some of the best Q-A info from the June 9 BAIPA Meeting in San Rafael, CA. (BAIPA is the Bay Area Independent Publishing Association, a first-rate monthly gathering of published folk living near San Francisco.)

1. If you want to use a famous (or even little-known) painting on your pages, find out the museum where it hangs, and get the rights (or how to license its use) from them. Sometimes it’s free.

2. Do you know about CreativeCommons.org? In its words: “Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools.” Just take a look to see if it will help you, or through it you can help others.

3. If you want to sell copy or artwork to the major publishing houses, figure out to which imprint first, then the specific editor (or people) you must contact there. Do that directly.

4. CreateSpace is poor on promotion.

5. We must promote our own books: we are publishers and must do our own marketing.

6. Lightning Source and CreateSpace do about the same thing, and print POD. One person buys from Create Space, of the two, because the books are a tad cheaper and they offer cream-color paper. (LSI also has a $105 set-up fee; none at CreateSpace.)

7. Bookstores need a 40% discount to survive; distributors, 55%.

8. You don’t get rich from books (usually). They are really entre items, to get you recognition and prove your expertise. But you can get very comfortable from speaking (speeches, seminars, breakout sessions), consulting, or Web marketing — or all four, empire building!

9. One successful publisher switched his business model to niche publishing, used my book (sorry for the shameless plug), and is now the niche champ in his field, free from the usual marketing woes of general publishers.

10. Why not sell your book digitally chapter by chapter. Give away the first chapter (make it free), then maybe charge 50 cents to $1 for those chapters that follow? Dickens did it long before ebooks!

11. Sutro was recommended for creating travel apps. One such app was given away free and had 9,000 downloads (many from China). No income but those recipients can be contacted to buy updates. They will recommend the app to their friends too. You can also do stand-alone chapters on apps, through Apple.

12. If you want your book on audio, Audible (acx.com) was recommended.

13. “How did my book end up being sold by Google?” was asked. Maybe Smashwords listed it there was the only guess.

14. Most of the questions concerned marketing: how to sell their tomes!

15. For more about BAIPA, go to baipa.org.

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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BookBaby and publishing your ebook

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Half of the reason I went to hear Brian Felsen give a 2 1/2-hour program on June 9, sponsored by BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishing Association), was to hear what additional magic he was going to unravel about this out-of-the-woodwork e-publishing phenomenon. Just months back who had heard of BookBaby? Now, who hasn’t? It’s the world’s largest ebook distributor for Indies, like us. (Oh yes, it’s also CDBaby’s kid cousin, and Felsen runs both.)

Brian’s a short dynamo who plowed through too much jet lag and too little air conditioning (like none) to make us laugh, make huge sense about the tumultuous open publishing happening, and to drive home the fact that the big houses either didn’t believe the digital deluge or were too ossified to either get on top or jump out of the way.

I don’t want to spend our time outlining what BookBaby can do for you. Please go to their website and particularly look at “About Us” and the Q-A section. In short, they offer the full monty of services, and it seems economically wiser to let them do some of the gnarlier deeds than to waste your editorial skills doing stuff, then undoing and doing it again, like trying to get Word to look civil in mobi or epub.

I’d much rather zero in on the most important points that Felsen made, and let the services sell themselves—or not.

1. Why self-publish? Because the old ship is sinking, the publishers are consolidating (without you), and it’s time for a radical readjustment.

2. 95% of today’s published books flop.

3. The big houses really want monster books, not what you are offering. To get the monster books they are jettisoning their mid-tail authors. And since you must do your own marketing anyway, with or with big-house “support,” why take 10% of the list price (worse yet, net) when doing it yourself you can keep a third or a half? (If you niche publish, and pretest, think 40-50% every time–my how-to link here.)

4. The big houses do have virtues: marketing and editorial support, exceptional physical distribution and store contacts, they are the king of certain genres, and being published by them makes it easier to get higher-paying speaking gigs.

5. Then why do it yourself? The speed and time to market, you can dominate the smaller niches, you already bring your own platform, you get a bigger cut of the profit pie, and it’s not either-or. Do both. (Aren’t most of us still printing bound versions and letting others publish our ebooks?)

6. With POD (print on demand) producing good-looking books in small quantities overnight, long gone are the opener runs of 2,500 books costing $5-6,000. They look as good as the bookstore books and can go from the press to the conference breakout room to your bank in a week.

7. Ingram’s royalty payment for ebooks is poor.

8. Covers are very important: “success leaves clues.” Make your ebook text 12-point, 14-18 point for chapter titles. Create them in Word or PDF. Keep your book in free-flow page format, a dynamic layout. The fixed format (locked) only works for children’s photo books, and not well there.

9. It now costs you a basic $99 or a premium $199 to use BookBaby, but soon it will be $99 for distribution and another $50 for set-up.

10. To survive as a self-publisher you must involve social and multimedia: website, online retail stores, blogs, speaking, YouTube. Soon you will have video and audio in the books too.

11. Marketing involves product (content and cover), pricing, placement (in ebook order, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple), and promotion (from your website: Twitter, Facebook, and a blog, plus Google. Also, sales direct to the reader, the metadata registered, and the basic SEO steps and lead words employed). Finally, to survive you must define your USP (unique selling proposal) and have a clear and compelling idea.

12. Identify your followers, use Stumbleupon.com, network with your heroes, ask your readers what they need to know, and help them.

13. Don’t avoid or overlook email: that’s where you get the best response. Do a newsletter, broadcast, directly engage your followers.

14. “It’s your scared duty to articulate.” Add to the conversation, express your unique voice. The time has never been better for writers because the old gatekeepers are folding. Anybody can get in, anybody can be in print.

15. Sell what you can—editions, a series, guest articles—and make money from other sources from your singular idea(s).

16. Pay attention to your time use. DIY (doing it yourself) can be very dumb: farm out what others do better and faster. Let others do the technical stuff. You write.

17. Nobody’s going to steal your words. Piracy isn’t the problem, it’s anonymity. Nobody knows who you are or that your book exists because it wasn’t shown, marketed, and sold.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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See how an excellent website is critical in empire building

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How can one double and triple their income quickly from writing, photography, speaking, consulting, teaching, or other related means?

The process is called empire building, and I focus on it in my free monthly newsletter.

Atypically, I’m going to prematurely share the key article in this month’s newsletter as this blog post because I so like Lee Foster’s website structure I want to share it with all actual and budding empire builders now.

The heart of Lee Foster’s empire is visible at www.fostertravel.com. When this award-winning photographer-writer is out capturing breathtaking views and gathering facts for his articles, his website is tending shop by showing what he has to say and sell—and collecting the fees for the purchases.

Some deserved bio accolades first. Lee Foster has published with the major houses and top travel magazines; he’s self-published as well. Four of his current books are The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco; The Photographer’s Guide to Washington, D.C.; Travels in American Imagination, and Northern California’s History Weekends. Enjoy some of his many-thousand photos at his website (from 250+ worldwide destinations)—plus his photos in more than 225 books from the travel publisher Lonely Planet. Finally, check his exhausting list of credits under “News” on the guide line of his website’s index page.

What I want to focus on here is Foster’s selling structure through his website so we can build our own empirical castles from stealing and using what he does so well. Fortunately, Lee wrote an excellent, detailed article that outlines his belief that you can earn income today through both the old and new travel journalism models if you move from the passive “being published” to the more active direct publishing while you create your own market for its sale. (This also applies to almost any other topic where writing, speaking, and photography are involved.) Please read Lee Foster’s “Entrepreneurial Travel Publishing” to see how all of the parts of his program support each other to create a steady and growing income flow. (This article closely parallels Lee’s first-rate, recent Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association presentation.) The article also expands on what follows with actual prices, costs, and procedures.

I’m extracting (sometimes in Lee’s words) from that article and his talk what impressed me most—or what I’d like to know (or share) most about his website support structure.

1. Foster blends photography, articles, blogs, books, some video, and apps, and to that he offers a do-it-yourself mechanism through which one can purchase a photo-use license for anything they see through the web or an agency, for their blog, a book, or almost any other legitimate application.

2. He actively seeks ways to sell his photos and his writing to the leading book companies and major magazines in his field.

3. If someone sees a Foster photo and wants to talk purchase, the website provides a process or directions to make that happen.

4. It’s time to bypass royalty book publishers and move forward with your own “independent” print book and/or ebook. Particularly if it’s true that Amazon sells 60% of all books bought in the U.S.

5. Use print-on-demand to provide your bound book stock as needed, though it’s still too expensive for color photos.

6. Consider Portland’s BookBaby’s model for producing and selling your ebooks. Your part of the production is alarmingly simple: use Word text with places allocated for photos. (You also have to write a good book, and have proofing as good.)

7. Even at $2.99 a book, earning 70% royalty from Amazon and Apple, you will get a better net return than from a $14.95 book in the traditional royalty publishing model.

8. Get your own ISBNs from Bowker for your books. You will need them anyway for LSI/Ingram POD printing and for some Smashwords editions.

9. A good website requires substantial ongoing attention. Use a WordPress structure, get a pro to set that up, but make the daily changes yourself. Your website will have static pages, a blog capacity, plus ecommerce and subscription lists.

10. What are the income-earners at www.fostertravel.com? Content licensing, Google Adsense income, private ads, affiliate ads, and product sales (books, apps, photo prints or cards).

11. Set up a monetizing website first, then do social media outreach and promotion to bring newcomers to your website. He uses Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. To flourish, the site must have a steady flow of new viewers.

12. 90% of Foster’s website users come from search engines (like Google), 10% from click-through referrals.

13. The website must be attractive and enticing to visitors. Does it have a good commercial structure, with seller links and a way to pay for the purchases? Can users comment on your blog?

14. Why not license your photos? And your writing, like derivative presentations of the articles. You must check the agreement every time you sell (particularly on Internet sites and in contests) to be sure you still own all rights, free and unencumbered; remember also to license non-exclusively.

15. All used articles should be bylined and include your photo and bio.

16. Apps are hard to sell, but worth serious pursuit. Physical books hardly sell outside the U.S/Canada. but one of Foster’s apps sold in 46 foreign countries. Compare printed physical books with ebooks/apps and ask which media has the brightest future? Alas, apps aren’t static; they require ongoing attention to improve them.

17. To effectively sell photos from a website consider Photoshelter. Lee sets the selling price and gets an upfront PayPal payment. Large photo agencies are particularly important now. Consider Alamy; you must technically know how to prepare the photos for submission.

18. Travel videos will be important, particularly since YouTube is the second largest Search source. They could be narrated slide shows with voice, still photos, and video clips.

19. Says Foster, “Because of the many tools now available for independent publishing, success is more assured for content creators who adopt a trajectory to ‘take charge’ of the publishing process rather than wait to be ‘chosen’ by others to be published.”

20. Check Lee’s website for lots of useful articles about writing and publishing. He writes well, he’s a veteran, and he’s plunk in the middle of it.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

(Also, travel writers might be particularly interested in my last post about selling second and reprint rights and other derivative presentations. That post is listed in the column to the right.)

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How to very profitably resell derivative rights to your writing and photography

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Selling the rights is easy. Finding them and keeping them is a lot harder.

First, what are derivative rights? “Derived from another source, spin-off” says the Oxford dictionary. But I mostly know them as second or reprint rights.

And why are they important? Because every sale without a tail (some restriction of your reselling the same copy or photo as is) means less money (and fame) for you. That’s how Lee Foster built an empire of perpetual income from photos and articles. (See the details at my free newsletter released yesterday or in the coming [June 11, 2012] blog post.) It’s also how I earned more money from resales than original magazine and newspaper purchases (about 1000 of my 1700+ published freelance articles were reprints or resales).

The derivative selling was much easier before the computer. For a magazine sale, for example, you sent a query letter to the (managing) editor asking if their publication would be interested in an article about . . . In the query you made the idea jump, and by the letter’s good writing you showed your ability to create the copy. Since almost all editors bought first rights (it was theirs to use first), you could then resell the same article to other editors. Those bought second or reprint rights, without exclusivity. They paid about a third or half as much, took longer to generate checks, and were far less likely to send you a comp copy with the article included. (Once, however, I was paid $500 for a reprint of an article that was first bought for $175. Do you believe in miracles?)

Newspapers operated differently, and their current formula hasn’t changed much for print copy. You found a travel target, say Fort Ross (owned by Russia, then Spain, before it passed to the U.S.). You wrote a short piece (maybe 1350 words), took perhaps 100 black and white photos (and one roll of color slides, just in case), and you sent that finished article to 15-20 larger-city newspaper travel editors (excluding the Wall St. Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and The New York Times, all of which bought national rights). The only catch was that each city had to be at least 100 miles from any of the others on your list, although you could sell to neighboring cities after you got a rejection. (For example, if the Chicago Tribune said no, you could sell to the Chicago Sun-Times, and if it said no, to the Milwaukee Journal and South Bend Tribune simultaneously.) The same with photos. You told them what photos you had available. If they bought the copy and were interested in the photos, you sent a proof sheet, and they picked out what they wanted. None bought exclusive rights so it wasn’t a hassle to sell one to many.

At this point folks in my freelance writing seminars would ask” “Could you sell the same text, unchanged, to both magazines and newspapers?” No, because the rights issues were too confusing. Sell your idea first to a magazine (and sell reprints to other magazines after the first was on the stands). Magazines bought color slides.

Then significantly rewrite the article in newspaper fashion, maybe call it “Five Matchless Gems of Russia’s Fort Ross—in California!” Send it to many newspapers simultaneously, and if they buy, also sell black-and-white photos.

Selling the same item, text or photo, repeatedly and problem-free is how you double and triple your income (sans much labor). The formula above is how you could, and often still can, sell derivative rights. (See the full selling process in my Travel Writer’s Guide.)

The hurdle today is the publications’ ability to repeatedly reuse the copy and photos through digital means. If the newspaper has a print and digital versions, it appears in both. It’s similar for magazines.

It’s all in the agreement you strike with the editor and the publication. You will find the restrictions in the contract you are asked to sign. You want them to buy one-time rights for photos and first rights (which they may define geographically) for your writing, as accepted.

Sometimes that’s no problem. That’s how the contract is worded or it will be so reworded after a gentle tongue-wrestle with the editor.

Other times, no luck. Their way or no sale. In that case, you have to hunt further to find another buyer who will meet your desires.

But there’s usually an alternative route. You’ve already gathered the facts, interviewed, photoed, and queried. They said no to the slant or angle you proposed in your query, or they said yes but on unacceptable terms. If the latter, go elsewhere.

But where the editor simply doesn’t like your query’s premise or framework, look hard at the subject and find several other unique features or different main points that could lead to a much different article. Pick the best of the alternative slants, rewrite the query, and try again, though probably not with the editor who just rejected your first try!

I think of those as rewrites, and often a “fat” idea or a “hopping” spot has four solid articles in it—and maybe 10 sold pieces from each, if you go the magazine (with reprints) and multi-newspaper route.

Your task is to scour the contracts so you can keep the second or reprint or derivative rights, and then get those spin-off (or rewritten) items on other editors’ paying pages!

Again, see my article about Lee Foster in a blog post here on June 11, and follow the links it contains back to Lee’s tight, profitable sell-and-resell-and-continue-to-resell system based on solid copy, superb photography, and the wise use of derivative marketing.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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More thoughts about selling your book(s) back of the room…

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I began this topic and posted it on Tuesday, May 29 (2012). That includes 12 starter points you might want to read first, before I continue here.

13. When I give my speaking program, do I have the products with me? Ask my sore back! Yep. I usually put two (or three) boxes of products on a reinforced roller and bring them with me, arriving at least an hour ahead of the program. I can usually guess well enough (extras of each) that I don’t have to go to the car to get more items after the presentation. But if I do, I ask the folks still there if they’ll guard my books and I’ll be right back. That’s fine with them—and I’ve only had maybe five books stolen in about 30 years, and those off the table during the first break (when the attendee also disappears!)

14. How do I pick BOR products to sell? The most important criterion is that they are written (or at least published) by me! Of those, I sell them at the same price they cost at the bookstore, though many become part of my special bundle. In fact, some of the books and reports are written and published specifically to match what I say at the seminars. For example, for decades I spoke about “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.” It dawned on me rather quickly that I could write reports or books about segments of that program where the listener/buyer would receive much more detail and far more examples. So I wrote a book about query letters, the pivotal part of selling better than 75%. And I wrote a long report about selling the second or reprint rights to the original article–which I’m about to summarize as a blog on June 5. Those became the kind of BOR items that participants eagerly bought while the topics were hot!

15. Do I ever sell others’ products? Sure, particularly Writer’s Digest items (like the Writer’s Market of that year). But they must be particularly valuable to my attendees. I buy them from the publisher by the box, one or several with 15-40 in them, and get a 40-43% discount. Add shipping (very expensive now) to that and I earn about 33% profit.

16. Can you return the other publishers’ books, if necessary? I suppose but it’s a real pain. I take care to keep them clean and undamaged, and if they get dented or scratched I sell them at a 33% discount, so it’s a wash and I at least get my shipping back.

17. How much profit can one realize from BOR sales? At the college/university level, where my attendance (in today’s economy) averages about 25, I usually earned from BOR $400-700 a program, and I once made, if I recall correctly, $2800. But my larger-venue professional speaker buddies are often in five digits. At one lunch at an NSA convention a very well known rally speaker mentioned that he had been paid $2,000 to speak in Burbank. Not to worry, he added, the BOR take was $33,000!

18. Any other advice about specific product choices? Some. Customize your products to match your presentations. And don’t put two products on the table about the same topic: it so confuses the buyers they don’t buy either. For example, when I spoke about self-publishing, I displayed Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. There was another book that covered the very same material, and the titles sounded similar too. I stayed with Dan’s book. That saved me a lot of trying to explain why one book is better or different than the other, questions that are usually asked when I should be taking others’ BOR orders.

19. Do I use (or hire) others to make my BOR sales? Almost never at the seminars, where I’m a one-man band. (I only sell products at the end of the seminar so I am available to speak with attendees during the two breaks.) If I’m speaking at a larger program in a different venue, I sometimes ask a couple of people in my audience if they’d like to handle the attendance and the SOPs sales in exchange for a couple of my products, their choice. That usually works well.

20. How do I handle credit card purchases? It used to be very hard to get into a credit card program—it was best to cajole your local bank to get you in. But now you can use PayPal and others. So that’s what I do. I have the buyers write down the card numbers, expiry, their name, and the three magic numbers on the order form, plus what they are buying, and I process them by computer later that night. One necessity: ask to see the card and check the numbers before you give them the products. I get stiffed once or twice a year, for about $30 each. I’m wary of accepting checks, but I will if there’s no other choice. Cash is gladly accepted.

21. Do you get any flack about selling products from the colleges/universities? Yep, they don’t like it much. In part, the bookstore is to have a sort of monopoly on product sales. But if you do two things, the college seems placated. One, don’t talk about product sales when you talk with your bookers. (They seem pleased not to know since the bookstore option simply doesn’t work for one-day programs.) And tred lightly when selling. In other words, don’t talk much about the products, don’t make them mandatory, and keep them very secondary, more a service you provide.

22. What about from your listeners, do they oppose your product selling? The longer you dwell on it, the more they complain. You’d far prefer they don’t complain, but if they do, much better to you than to the office. If I sense any resistance at all, when I give my gentle sales pitch I explain that “I’m not here to sell books but rather to help you be aware of the best writing/selling books I know.” There are only four hours for the program and sometimes attendees want more information than I can give in that time, so I have chosen the books I use to help them fill in any void. That seems to soften the rumbles against crass commercialism!

23. Last, do I always sell BOR: back of the room? Usually, because it’s easier to move the tables in or around back there, and the products are seen as folks take breaks or as they leave. But sometimes the rooms make it necessary to do SOR (side of room) and FOR (front of room). You do what you must do, but over time I’ve made more money with BOR than the other two.

Those are the questions I’ve been asked over the years about BOR sales. I hope this helps if you speak and you want to offer additional written or audio information through products.

Gordon Burgett

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