Self-publishing and POD (publish on demand)

My buddy Bill Quain and I are doing a podcast series on behalf of It’s called FastPencil Pointers, and you can get it on iTunes or here. As we were preparing next week’s issue, I realized that many people do not know what self-publishing and publish-on-demand are.


Self-publishing: The publishing of a book or books where the author is also the publisher.

Publish-on-demand: The use of print-on-demand equipment to produce books in as small a quantity as one.

Thanks to the Internet and modern printing and binding technologies, it is possible for an author to publish his or her own book without having to invest heavily in large quantities of printed copies and the attendant logistics.

A self-publisher can use a publish-on-demand company for producing the book, or simply have it printed by a traditional book printer.

POD companies often offer additional services to the author, such as ISBN codes; cover design; connection to distributors, like Ingram (who supply bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.); editing; and more.

The initial POD vendors were not always transparent about the specifics of their service offerings, and sometimes left customers unsatisfied with the value of the “packages” they had bought. Today, competition has forced these firms to be more open about precisely what they do and do not provide. It’s easier for an author to make comparisons than ever before.

I recommend self-publishing to all my authors. If you publish your book yourself, and sell a few thousand copies–and then pitch a major publisher–you will be in a FAR better position to bargain for royalty rates, promotional budgets, intellectual property rights, and more. But frankly, at that point you may ask yourself whether the imprimatur of the major publisher is worth what you may have to give up.

As an author, you will make out better financially if you get a cover designed; get your book printed; and control your own promotion. Now, you may not have the time or the inclination to do those things, and there are plenty of people who will gladly undertake to do them for you; but whichever way you go, you should study the process so that you will understand what you are buying.

Improv and book writing

Dalia’s daughter Tamar bought Dalia and me an introductory Improv class for our birthdays (10 days apart in June). We went a couple of nights ago. It was wonderful!

Improvisational theater, now known as “improv,” is a Zen-like practice of being in the moment and interacting with others in games. In our class, and in improv in general, there is a general atmosphere of positivity. A “safe place” is established by the teacher and the students, where no-one need fear criticism or ridicule, and the goal is to have fun.

Some simple rules make possible a wonderful and warm intimacy among strangers:

  • “Yes, and….” Whatever frame, story line, or assumption is put forth by the person from whom you “receive the action,” honor it. If she says, “And then a duck flew into the room,” and looks at you, you must accept the duck and move the action forward from there.
  • Make others look good. If another actor seems to have departed from the harmony of a scene, do your best to expand the situation so that the possibly awkward move somehow fits harmoniously.
  • Feel free to make mistakes, because none of us cares.

As I sit by my computer, working on my book, I am now benefiting from these rules. Whatever weird idea is presented to me by my muse, my research, or my editor, I explore it from a “yes, and…” point of view. Where might it lead? I can do this freely, with abandon, because right here and now, it’s ok to be wrong, it’s ok to step out of harmony.

And I am determined to make others look good. Whatever I’m writing about, whoever was involved, whatever strange things they may have done, I choose compassion as my guiding emotion when commenting on them and their actions.

All of this gives my writing an uplifting spirit, an exuberance it had been missing for a while.

Try it!

Learning about writing from matchbooks

I’m afraid of fiction writing. I’m afraid if I started, I would lose myself in it and forget to come out, forget to pay the bills. I’d just refine and refine and read more good writing and go back and write some more.

So I push it away. I stick to the purposeful prose of non-fiction, and teach others to do the same.

But still. I love the beauty of the writing craft, the endless possibilities. And while you are writing your book that tells your story, in a way premeditated to communicate your uniqueness to prospects and clients, you have the passion that can move, even dazzle–that can fuel a small fire in the reader, or even fireworks.

Go read about matchbook literature, and enjoy the stimulation.

Learning about writing from musicians

A friend sent me a video of an unusual performance of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, which you probably know and enjoy. It led me to think: How can I mirror this kind of innovation in my book writing? First watch the video; then we’ll talk.


OK, now that you’ve seen it, how does it speak to you? What can we model, as book writers, that can make our books more engaging? Comments are open.

Where to find ideas for your book?

Aspiring authors have been asking me this question for years. Today, through a chance encounter with Dave Grossman’s website, I finally got the answer. See this simple but elegant explanation. After reading it, you will know what to do.

Impressionism and the book writer

As the final installment in my birthday festivities, my wife took me to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, to see The Birth of Impressionism. The unusual number of well-known masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pisarro, Cezanne, Gauguin, and others is here thanks to the Musee D’Orsay, their usual home, undergoing extensive remodeling.

Portrait of Claude Monet, 1875, Musée d'Orsay,...
Image via Wikipedia

I have a deep love of Impressionist art, dating to a Paris visit in the eighties. It was before the conversion of the old train station into the Musee D’Orsay, and the Impressionist art was cheek-by-jowl on the walls of the Jeu de Paume building in the Tuilleries garden. (Don’t all these place names make you want to go to Paris?)

I was wandering around, wondering what all the fuss was about. I had never looked closely at Impressionist art before; it just seemed messy and blotchy. Suddenly I came upon this painting of Monet by Renoir. Reading the sparse legend, I realized that these two friends were in their early thirties when this portrait was done.

I was in my late thirties at the time. Something struck me, and suddenly it was as if Monet was a real person. Everything in the painting became real to me. And I was moved to tears.

As I moved along to other paintings, the experience continued. All the Monets and Renoirs affected me this way; also Mary Cassat’s work. Sisley’s later paintings, and some of Pisarro’s, opened that channel of light to me, too.

And it never left me. Even a small, low-resolution reproduction of a Renoir or a Monet still evokes the feelings in me, as if I were looking into another world. The art changed me, and opened new worlds for me.

That is what I aspire to in my writing: To have an impact on my reader that transcends the moment.

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The story of your life is a professional asset

Joel at 17

My daughter sent me some old pictures for Father’s Day. This one is of me when I entered the Israeli army, at 17.

If the main purpose of your book is to play a part in marketing your professional services, one of the most powerful stories you can include is yours. People feel like they know you if they know something about you, and the more they know, the closer they feel to you.

You don’t need to include a complete autobiography, or the details of who came to each of your birthday parties from age 1 onward. Tell the parts that brought you to where you are today, practicing what you do.

Perhaps you had an experience that led to a turning point, a major shift of some sort. Such accounts are exciting! Everyone longs for tales of hope, because if you were able to overcome your challenges, perhaps they can overcome theirs.

Start by clustering your story, thinking in terms of its role in your book. (If you’re not sure what clustering is, search for “clustering” in this blog, using the search box at the top right.) Edit and prune unemotionally; readers will appreciate it. “Awww!” is not the reaction you want, so avoid sappy sentimentality and self-indulgence. But don’t be afraid of telling about emotions.

Some pictures of you in your youth can be helpful, but are not essential.

Don’t go overboard. Remember the purpose of the story. You are saying, “These are some of the circumstances and experiences that brought me to where I am today. This may help you understand why I am passionate about what I do, and why I feel strongly that I can help others move ahead.”

Run it by a clear-headed friend or associate, even before the book is edited. Writing about yourself is hard for everyone.

How to structure your book?

My book-writing process is the simplest one that I know of, and I’ve examined all the ones I have found. Nevertheless, one part of it remains challenging: Creating your structure.

COLMA, CA - AUGUST 18:  Home Depot workers mov...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

If you’ve read my book, or picked up pieces on my blog, you know that the basis of the Joel’s BookProgram method is one simple rule: Structure first, then content. In case this is the first you’ve heard of it, here’s my favorite metaphor: If you want to build a house, you do not begin with a trip to Home Depot. For what will you buy? How many 2×4’s? How many pounds of nails? Feet of Romex cable? And so on.

To build a house–assuming you’ve got a place to put it–you need a plan. So your first stop is the office of an architect.

After extensive discussions to establish just what you are seeking in a house–talking about everything from type of construction, number of floors, bathrooms, how long before the kids move out, room for the electric trains, to the swimming pool, and much more–the architect will draw up plans. Only after they have been gone over, revised, and re-revised, can they be turned over to a builder for estimates–and ultimately, for the creation of shopping lists.

The book equivalent of a house plan is your structure. Any writing you do without having a complete structure in place–a detailed outline down to the sub-chapter level–is likely to be a waste of time.

Your book is really its structure. The structure determines the order of what will be said, in order to get your message across. So how do you create it?

Before you even start, recognize that this is the creative, artistic part of book-writing. And for many of us, that puts us in a place of emotional intensity. We may experience exhilaration, anxiety, frustration, progress, disappointment, and fulfillment–in rapid succession, and repeatedly. Recognize that this is the nature of the process, and if you are having these feelings, you are on the right track.

The two tools that I show you for use in this phase of your book-writing journey are clustering and “the diamond.” They are all I’ve found so far, and they are powerful. But there is one other form of help you can use: Feedback. Talk through your thoughts with a coach or trusted friend.

And if you come up with any other ways to make structuring easier, please share them with me!

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Your book is you

I just got the latest issue of Writer’s Digest; it’s one of the few magazines I still receive in the mail, and only because it was a package deal with their websites. And I must admit that the kinesthetics of a physical magazine still offer me something pleasant, despite the inconvenience of not having it electronically.

A hot issue: Truth in memoirs. After several scandals (look up authors James Frey and Frank McCourt and throw in “Oprah,” and you’ll get the gist), the subject of “embellishment” of stories that are ostensibly true has gotten a lot of attention.

But let’s cut to the chase: ALL writing is false, in some sense, no matter how journalistic or scientific. It is false in that it perforce tells only part of the story. There’s going to be a range of “truthfulness”; if you invent people or events claim truthfulness, don’t be surprised if you get called on it.

Yet whose memory is perfect? Even with notes or recordings? And what “facts” are significant? Is it better to write, “The color of our family car was blue, or maybe grey; actually, it may have been dark green. I’m not sure…” or “Dad pulled the blue Buick into the driveway, and threw his suitcase into the back seat”? Well, what do you mean by, “better”? The latter moves the action along; the former may be more truthful; but what are you trying to accomplish?

Most of my clients are writing books to establish their professional credibility. I encourage them to include some autobiography, so that readers can get to know them–and perhaps like and trust them. To that end, I suggest judicious storytelling–not to mislead, but not to draw attention to imperfections.

Ultimately, your book represents you. Your integrity, or lack thereof, will be examined, largely by the evidence you provide–and how well it matches what people may find on the Internet. Think about that when you plan what to write.

Produce book video trailer for next to nothing

I’ve been working with my new friend Bill Quain on a variety of projects. (Check out our FastPencil Pointers podcast, or download it from iTunes.) Now we are preparing a teleseminar on producing a compelling video trailer for your book–at almost no cost.

The secret is, a website that uses artificial intelligence to create a fabulous video from still, video clips, and audio that you create or choose. Here’s what Bill wrote to his subscribers:

This message goes out to all of my newsletter subscribers. I have some very exciting news.

You can create fantastic, high-quality video Book Trailers for FREE! I did a couple, and they took me about 40 minutes each.

Now realize this – I am legally blind, 57 years old, and not that bright. Imagine what you can do! Just click here to sign up for your free account .

As a free account holder, you may create as many 30-second videos as you like. But, get this – for just $30/year you can upgrade to an account that lets you create as many full-length videos as you like!

Animoto provides all the music, and an incredible editor that allows you to upload images, create text, and even upload video clips. Then, their fantastic software mixes the music and creates a tempo, with many interesting transition techniques to make your video a really cool experience.

This is not just for book trailers! Many of my clients are coaches who would love to have a great, professional quality video on their websites. One friend of mine, who does a lot of workshops, takes pictures of the people in the workshop, inserts some text with points from the workshop, uploads some Animoto audio tracks with music, then shows the video at the workshop. He then emails it to each participant (Animoto actually does it for you) so they have a great reminder of the workshop, along with some major points.

Now, here is a special announcement for all the MEMBERS of The Anatomy of a Best-Selling Book membership site. I am going to give you a FREE tutorial on using Animoto. It will be coming up in the next two weeks, so sign up for your free acount, and upgrade to All Access status ($30/year) if you like. I will teach you exactly how to produce a video.

For those of you who are not MEMBERS of my site, the workshop will cost $39.77. Even if you have to pay, it is a very valuable tool. It will FLATTEN THE LEARNING CURVE!

(If you want to see a sample of one of my videos, just send me an email to request a link.)

Watch this space for the announcement of the workshop.

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