Should a self-published author get a distributor or agent?

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I recently received an email from a self-published author who wanted to know whether he should get a distributor or agent for his book. He had printed up 1,000 copies using a China-based printer, and wanted to know how he could get them into stores or noticed by an agent.

My answer: Getting distributors for printed books is extremely difficult … and probably not worth it. In-store retail paperback sales are falling While print sales have shown signs of life, margins are thin, there has been a lot of consolidation in the industry (or outright closures), and the distributors who remain are extremely picky about who they sign.

I tried for more than a year to get a distributor for In 30 Minutes guides on the terms that I wanted. The terms were key, as our guides are already very inexpensive. Selling the books at a wholesale rate (typically a 55% discount off the cover price) and giving the distributor a cut would lead to a gross profit of just a dollar or two per copy. Moreover, print distributors demand control (and a cut) over ebook distribution even though they add practically no value to this side of the business. Finally, distributors require publishers to adhere to their sales and marketing playbooks. That might be OK for some publishers, but not for i30 Media — in fact it would add significant delays and expenses to our production and marketing processes.

I ended up abandoning the effort to find a distributor. I now handle wholesale and direct distribution on my own through Createspace, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a short-run digital printer. While it’s true I am missing out on some brick-and-mortar retail sales, it works a lot better for my business — I have more control over my product, keep more money from sales (gross profit is 2x-3x more than what it would be through a distributor), and if retailers want to order the book they can do so through Ingram iPage or contact i30 Media directly through our contact form.

What about agents for self-published books?

As for the question about agents, my response was similar. Reputable ones will want to see evidence of very strong sales on Amazon before talking with a self-published author. And frankly, if your self-published books already has good sales on Amazon, why would you need an agent or a publisher? It’s questionable whether the traditional agent/publisher approach can improve sales for most authors. Even if an agent scores an advance, it won’t be much, and they will end up taking more money from both retail and online sales, leaving just a small cut for the author. Many readers of this post may be surprised to learn that big publishers seldom market books by new authors.

The questions about distributors, agents, and publishers come up a lot. Many people who are new to publishing assume that these players from the 20th-century publishing world are something to aspire to, or are required for success. The reality is it is possible to publish and profit in the 21st-century industry without going through agents, distributors, or big-name publishers in New York. Yes, it requires more investment on the author’s part to edit a manuscript, find a professional cover design, and market the book, but it is doable.

As for the author who contacted me, it turns out that he had self-published a cookbook. I told him that for a book like this, it will be either local bookstores in the community or special venues that will provide the best opportunities to sell cookbooks. Special venues could be a farmer’s market, a community or school fair, or flea markets. At IBPA’s Publishing University conference last year, I heard a presentation by poet/author Kwame Alexander who said that he was able to sell thousands of copies of one of his books at farmer’s markets, based on his wife’s suggestion — and he wasn’t even trying to sell a cookbook, which would be an even better match for people buying fresh ingredients.

Another option: volunteering to speak about the dishes or giving a cooking class … and then marketing the book to attendees.

As for online efforts, I would try the following:

  1. Create a website for the book with links to Amazon or other options to buy
  2. Create some simple videos on YouTube with a link to the book website.
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Announcing an updated version of our unofficial iPhone user guide

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Publisher i30 Media has released an updated version of its iPhone user guide. Authored by Ian Lamont, iPhone Basics In 30 Minutes covers the current iPhone hardware lineup including the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and the iPhone SE. It also explores the iOS operating system, Apple services such as iCloud and Siri, and important apps such as Phone, Photos, Mail, and Maps. Finally, it provides reviews of nine powerful apps that many new iPhone owners may never have heard of, such as Waze and Wunderlist.

Written in plain English with a touch of humor and lots of images, this iPhone user guide covers basic setup, key hardware and software features, and various tricks and time-savers. Topics include:

  • How to customize the iPhone’s appearance
  • What users need to know if about migrating from Android
  • Touch screen basics
  • 3D Touch, Peek, and Pop
  • Switching apps and multitasking
  • Typing and text tricks
  • How to use Siri and its kid brother, Dictation
  • Getting the most out of the powerful iPhone camera
  • Managing iCloud settings
  • Security features, from Find My iPhone to Touch ID
  • Wi-Fi and other wireless settings
  • How to tame notifications and after-hours calls
  • Moving, deleting, and grouping apps
  • Four ways to conserve battery power
  • Seven ways to free up iPhone storage space
  • Nine exceptional iPhone apps

Not a comprehensive iPhone user guide

As its name suggests, iPhone Basics In 30 Minutes does not cover everything about the iPhone. Nevertheless, in a single reading readers will discover new features and learn time-saving shortcuts. The guide also explains how to leverage the iPhone’s increasingly powerful camera and photo-organizing software.

iPhone user guide camera tipsiPhone Basics In 30 Minutes contains updated text and imagery from an earlier title, iPhone 6 and 6S In 30 Minutes, but has been significantly revised to take into account Apple’s new iPhone models and updates to the iOS operating system.

Here’s what real readers have said about the guides:

John Steel:

“A really useful guide full of hints tips and information. You can save yourself a lot of money by following the clear instructions over usage. I would still be struggling to use the phone to its full potential without this book. Highly recommended.”

Gary Coates:

“Great help for Android users wondering where all the functionality has gone when using an iPhone for the first time.”

To learn more about the title, or to purchase the ebook, PDF, or paperback editions, visit the official companion website located at iphone.in30minutes.com. The book will be updated as Apple releases new hardware and software.

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Announcing our new Microsoft Word guide

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Publisher i30 Media Corp. is pleased to announce the launch this week of Microsoft Word In 30 Minutes: How to make a bigger impact with your documents and master Word’s writing, formatting, and collaboration tools. While most people know how to open a .docx file and start entering text on the screen, Microsoft Word In 30 Minutes is designed to take readers to the next level and leverage Word’s powerful design, sharing, and reviewing tools.

Microsoft Word In 30 Minutes - new MS Word guideAuthored by Angela Rose, the book guides readers through the basics of Microsoft Word, from formatting to printing, before moving on to more advanced features such as collaboration, charts, and tables. Using real-life situations and amusing examples from her own home-based writing business, Rose shows readers how to move beyond simple letters and reports to create eye-catching and powerful documents for work, school, and personal use.

Microsoft Word In 30 Minutes can help turn the average computer user into the local office expert on Microsoft Word, if not an actual power user. The book covers Microsoft Word 2016 as well as Microsoft’s free (but limited) Word Online program. Most of the instructions and examples in the Word guide also apply to earlier versions, including Word 2013 and Word 2010.

Topics include:

  • MS Word interface basics, from Backstage View to the Ribbon
  • Office 365 subscriptions and OneDrive
  • Display options for individual documents
  • How to work with multiple windows in Microsoft Word
  • Working with .docx, .doc, .txt, PDF, and other file formats in Word 2016 and Word Online
  • Locating recovered files
  • Printing documents, envelopes, and labels
  • How to format text using the toolbar
  • How to format Word documents using styles, themes, and style sets
  • Creating Word documents with professional-quality templates
  • How to create tables and charts in MS Word
  • Adding images, video, and hyperlinks
  • How to automatically create a table of contents in Word
  • Adding footnotes, endnotes, citations, a bibliography, and an index
  • Word spelling, tracking, and other reviewing tools
  • Collaboration tools, from comments to live collaboration
  • How to protect your Word document

The Microsoft Word book is available in paperback and ebook formats through online retailers and can also be ordered through bookstores, libraries, and other outlets. For more information about the Word guide and to read an excerpt, please visit the companion website located at word.in30minutes.com.

About the author

Angela Rose is a writer and marketing strategist based in Colorado. When she’s not removing cats from her keyboard, you can find Angela searching for the perfect taco, running 5Ks, whipping up original pastry recipes, and hiking the Colorado Mountains with her photographer husband. Angela is also the author of LinkedIn In 30 Minutes (2nd Edition).

About the series

i30 Media is the publisher of In 30 Minutes guides – Quick guides for a complex world. Thousands of readers turn to the series to understand mildly complex topics, ranging from genealogy to software. The tone is friendly and easy to understand, with step-by-step instructions and lots of examples. Top-selling titles include Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes, Twitter In 30 Minutes, and LinkedIn In 30 Minutes. For more information about the series, visit in30minutes.com.

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WordPress login problem solved

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As a digital publisher, one of the worst feelings in the world is losing control over some aspect of production. Maybe your laptop breaks, an employee or key freelancer leaves, or a vital tool disappears. In i30 Media I have built a lot of redundancy, so if something fails we can move to the backup … but what if the backup option has problems of its own? That’s what happened to me this week when one of our WordPress installations had a login problem. I am happy to report that the WordPress login problem was solved, with a relatively minimum level of effort to fix. This post will describe how I dealt with this particular WordPress problem. (Note that it may not be applicable to other situations involving hacked WordPress sites or corrupted databases. Consult the official WordPress resources cited in the post for guidance).

The site in question is the companion website for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. The book launched in September, and since then we have been adding resources to the site including blog posts and free genealogy forms. This week, we launched a new product—a genealogy forms library. There is a digital version, which includes 15 PDF and Excel files, as well as a physical bundle of 50 genealogy forms that are made out of archival-quality acid-free paper.

However, yesterday when I attempted to log into the website to post information and links about the genealogy forms bundles, there was a problem. I got to the login screen OK and entered my password, but it redirected me to the home page of the website.

That’s odd, I thought. Why can’t I log into WordPress? I tried several times on different browsers, but it was the same result. I then checked my other WordPress sites, such as the sites for Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, and Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. There was no issue accessing the dashboard on these other sites.

Was I using the wrong password on the genealogy website? I initiated a WordPress password recovery. I was able to reset my password, but afterwards I still got the redirect problem after trying to log on to WordPress. This was concerning, because even though the site looked OK and people could still check out the book and other elements, I was apparently unable to access the WordPress dashboard to make changes.

The fact that the site was visibly working indicated that my WordPress login problem wasn’t a WordPress hack or security issue. In many cases, WordPress hacks will result in defacement or the creation of ads for porn or bogus pharmaceuticals, and I didn’t see anything like that. In addition, I use security plugins that control most common problems, and follow good security protocol for passwords and user access.

I had a backup for the site (using the Updraft plugin) but I could not even access the plugin screen to restore the backup because I could not log into the site. While it was possible to still make a backup and restore via cPanel or FTP, it would take some time and I feared that the bug or issue would be re-introduced. A third option: manually rebuild the site, which would take the better part of an afternoon.

So I did what everyone does when they encounter a WordPress login problem: I googled how to fix it. There were lots of random blogger solutions, but I paid most attention to what the official source had to say—and the official source is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Under “Disable Plugins,” it said:

Some WordPress Plugins may interfere with the login process. Disable all of your WordPress Plugins, either through the admin panel or by removing them from the /wp-content/plugins/ folder, so they will not be recognized by the program.

Alternatively, you can rename the plugins folder to something else temporarily to something like /wp-content/pluginsXX/ and they will not be recognized. Rename the folder back to /wp-content/plugins/ once the base WordPress installation has been recovered.

Now, I don’t know what caused the WordPress login problem, but my suspicions fell on the theme (Salient) or an issue with one of my plugins. I was less inclined to believe the Salient theme was causing the login problem with WordPress, because I hadn’t made any changes to the theme since launch and had also not updated the WordPress installation itself for a few months.

Plugins were another story. I had a few that triggered certain behaviors when errors were encountered, such as a redirection plugin that sent people visiting certain pages or WordPress files to the home page. Maybe one of the redirects was inadvertently triggered, or there was a problem with plugin itself.

So I used the “pluginsXX” trick from the Codex to troubleshoot the WordPress login problem. I went into the cPanel “Files” area, which basically gives me an FTP view of the WordPress installation. I navigated to wp-content, selected the plugins folder, and appended “XX”:

Wordpress login problem solvedImmediately the front page and login page on the genealogy site changed as various visual plugins and security features (such as captcha) were disabled as the plugins were now turned off. But at least I could finally log into WordPress!

I got to the WordPress dashboard and poked around to evaluate the situation. I didn’t see anything other than the warning about missing plugins. I made another backup with a specialized plugin called Updraft Plus, and exported the posts and other content from the WordPress Tools menu just in case.

I went back to cPanel and opened the pluginXX folder, which showed a list of all installed plugins. I deleted the plugin that handled redirections. Then I renamed pluginsXX to “plugins” which made the plugins once again visible to the WordPress software. I went back to my WordPress genealogy dashboard and reloaded the plugins menu. The remaining plugins reappeared, except for the one I had just deleted. However, they were completely deactivated. So I activated them all (save another security plugin) and loaded the site in another browser. It was back to normal. I logged out, logged in on the original browser, and reactivated the security plugin, then logged out again. Logging in was no problem — I could get back into WordPress.

I think the WordPress login problem was caused by the redirect plugin, possibly because of something in the settings that I messed up rather than the plugin itself. I will probably reactivate it again, but be more careful with which 404s I try to fix, especially with xml or php files.

If you can’t log in to WordPress, the first place you should go is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Be careful trying to mess around with FTP, WordPress databases, or WordPress settings that can potentially cause bigger problems than the one described above!

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Soulene wins IPNE book award

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Soulene: A Healer in Paris IPNE Book awardOn this blog, I have documented the ups and downs of running an experimental nonfiction publishing venture—i30 Media, which I founded four years ago to publish In 30 Minutes guides. But one thing I seldom mention on this blog or elsewhere is the fact that i30 Media is also a publisher of fiction. I am pleased to announce that one our fiction titles, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, recently received an award from the Independent Publishers of New England for young adult fiction. Congratulations go to author Ursula Pearson, who put in a lot of hard work over a period of several years to tell the story of Soulene, a young healer living in medieval France and England.

You may wonder how a publisher of utility nonfiction got involved in publishing YA fiction. I’ve learned that once you hang out your shingle as “publisher” all kinds of people will approach you for help with their work. As the self-publishing explosion has demonstrated, there is an incredible well of untapped writing talent out there. Unfortunately, the process of publishing a book can be difficult. Not only are the tools unwieldy, but also most prospective authors don’t want to deal with the work associated with editing, formatting, designing, and marketing a new book. So they turn to people with more experience to help them get their books published.

While I have said “no” to most prospective authors who have asked me to edit or publish their works of fiction, I made an exception for Ursula. At the heart of her stories was a strong character, a young woman pursuing a passion to help the sick and injured. Soulene lived in an unjust and cruel world, in which poverty, plagues, and war were a constant presence. Only a small class of educated men (most of them from noble families or the clergy) could ever hope to become doctors. Yet Soulene was able to find an alternate path through a religious order for women, the so-called Red Heart Healers, who specialized in working with the poor of France and parts of England.

Soulene also had a fascinating backstory. I won’t reveal it here, but suffice it to say that it rivals a Mexican soap opera for plot twists, villains, and vengeful plots. Ursula also paid close attention to important historical details, including the types of herbs and plants used for treating wounds and illness, the spread of plague in medieval towns, and even the layout of 13th-century Paris.

These qualities, along with the short length of the books, convinced me to take on Ursula’s trilogy. Book 1, Soulene: A Healer’s Tale, was released in 2013. The following year Soulene: The Art of the Red Heart Healers came out. Last year, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, was released. While the first book required a lot of rewrites and editing, by the third book Ursula had hit her stride. The characters were fleshed out, the dialogue was strong, and the pacing was just right. We found talented graphic artists—Steve Sauer and Malgorzata Godziuk—to handle the covers and interior maps. Reader feedback was great, but I also thought there might be an opportunity to get wider recognition.

award-winning Soulene trilogyEnter the IPNE Awards. Every year the Independent Publishers of New England holds an awards contest, the winners of which are announced at the annual conference. A panel of librarians handles the judging in more than a dozen categories, which include art, literary fiction, mystery, and several nonfiction categories. i30 Media entered Soulene: A Healer in Paris as well as two In 30 Minutes titles. Last month, Soulene was named a finalist in the YA category, and at the conference in Portsmouth New Hampshire it won the IPNE 2016 Book award for YA fiction. It was a pleasure to pick up the award on the author’s behalf.

Does the award mean that i30 Media will be developing more fiction titles? I am not sure, but I have told Ursula that when she starts work on another book I will be ready to read her manuscript.

To learn more about Soulene, check out the official Soulene.com website.

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Free resources for family genealogists

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When we released Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes last month, we also launched a companion website. This is typical for In 30 Minutes guides—the websites contain additional resources, such as author bios, and free resources such as blog posts and videos. But for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes, author Shannon Combs-Bennett and publisher i30 Media wanted to offer something else for free—genealogy forms, which many amateur and professional genealogists use to track their progress and visualize the results.

We are pleased to announce that our free genealogy forms starter kit is now available from the website. It contains a five-generation pedigree chart as well as a genealogy research log. You can see screenshots of the forms below:

Free resources free genealogy forms starter kiti30 Media is not the first publisher to offer blank genealogy forms. A simple Google search reveals scores of free forms, shared by amateur genealogists as well as established giants such as Ancestry.com.

However, one thing we noticed about many of the free genealogy forms is the presentation of information left a lot to be desired. The fields or boxes on the forms were often too small, forcing people to write using tiny script. The explanatory text was also hard to read, owing to “busy” fonts or tiny point sizes.

And then there was an issue of organization. The free forms often left out key information, such as the family group sheet that doesn’t have fields for “occupation” or the inventory logs that don’t ask about the source of a particular record or heirloom. I believe this is an important oversight that can lead to unnecessary headaches down the road when family researchers return to a particular sheet and need more information than was originally recorded.

Working with a professional graphic designer, we tried to correct some of these limitations. For instance, the five-generation pedigree chart (see screenshot, above) contains numbered spaces for people’s names, clearly demarcated from the other details, which allow users to zero in on the names later. The research log has fields that can accommodate two lines of text instead of just one, and asks about website locations where the research may be found.

In addition to the free resources in the genealogy starter kit, we are also offering a paid genealogy forms bundle which includes more than a dozen digital files (PDF and Excel) as well as a paper bundle that is printed on high-quality archival paper. These forms are important tools not only for today’s users, but potentially for the next generation of researchers.

Blank Genealogy Forms Library - 8 PDF and Excel genealogy forms

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Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes now available!

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Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes launchPublisher i30 Media today launched Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes: The quick guide to creating a family tree, building connections with relatives, and discovering the stories of your ancestors (ISBN: 9781939924681). Authored by professional genealogist Shannon Combs-Bennett, the book explains the joys, challenges, and triumphs of researching family origins. It aims to help people who are new to genealogy as well as those who have casually gathered information about their ancestors over the years and want to take their research to the next level.

While many people assume genealogy research starts online, Combs-Bennett shows the importance of getting started with family research using documents that can be found in one’s own home or with the help of relatives. She also emphasizes how to build a family tree the right way—instead of entering random ancestors’ names into Google or Ancestry.com, it’s critical to start at the base of the tree with one’s own family and then work back in time using vital records and other documents. As Combs-Bennett explains in the book, online research and genetic genealogy can play an important role once the most recent generations have been identified.

Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes is written in a friendly, easy-to-understand style that avoids complex jargon. There are lots of examples, case studies, and advice that can help would-be family historians quickly get up to speed. In addition to listing best practices for conducting genealogical research, Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes also warns readers about the many pitfalls of family research, from “brick wall” mysteries to time-wasting online searches. Topics include:

  • Why are people so interested in family history?
  • Evaluating clues, facts, and myths in family stories
  • The importance of linking generations
  • Vital records, from birth certificates to death records
  • Non-vital records, from census forms to wills
  • Religious records
  • Five things that can trip up newbies researching family history
  • Best practices for genealogy road trips
  • Interviewing relatives, and dealing with skeptics
  • Pros and cons of online genealogy research
  • Genealogy communities and continuing education
  • Genetic genealogy basics
  • Understanding the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
  • Genetic genealogy and adoptees
  • Non-paternal events and other skeletons in the genetic closet
  • Visualizing family history with charts
  • Research logs and genealogy journals
  • How to create good source citations
  • Preserving records and research
  • Genealogy software and GEDCOM files
  • Planning for disasters

Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes is not a comprehensive guide. Nevertheless, readers will be able to quickly understand key research basics that will serve them well as they embark on a journey to figure out their family origins. Creating a strong family tree will not only satisfy their curiosity, but will also serve as a record to share with relatives and future generations.

More information about Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes as well as online ordering options can be found on the companion website, genealogy.in30minutes.com. The site also includes a genealogy blog and other resources for readers. The paperback retail price is $11.99 while the ebook edition is available on the Amazon Kindle and other devices for $7.99.

About the author

Author Shannon Combs-BennettShannon Combs-Bennett is an author, researcher, and lecturer based in the Washington, D.C. metro area. She regularly speaks and writes about genetic genealogy, Virginia genealogy, and research methods. Shannon is a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine and Family Tree University, serves as the Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist, and owns T2 Family History. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Indiana University, which started her passion for research and genetic genealogy. Shannon completed the Boston University Certificate of Genealogical Research in 2013 and is a student at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, earning a certificate in American Records. Shannon also serves as a staff genealogist at the National Society Colonial Dames 17th Century in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

About In 30 Minutes guides

i30 Media is the publisher of In 30 Minutes guides – “Quick guides for a complex world.” Thousands of readers turn to In 30 Minutes guides to understand mildly complex topics, ranging from genealogy to software. The tone is friendly and easy to understand, with step-by-step instructions and lots of examples. Top-selling titles include Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes, Twitter In 30 Minutes, and LinkedIn In 30 Minutes. For more information about the series, visit in30minutes.com

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Twitter In 30 Minutes reviewed by Night Owl Reviews

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Not long ago Twitter In 30 Minutes received one of its first professional reviews. Now Pamela Robinson of Night Owl Reviews has published a review, which you can see on the Night Owl site. This is what she had to say:

Ian Lamont is good at breaking down steps and organizing directions so that anyone can understand them. Twitter is a part of social media that seems to be here to stay. Knowing how to not only create an account, but to use it effectively is important.

This book goes through the steps of creating your own account, adding pictures to your profile, and how to find others on Twitter as well. I didn’t know that if an egg is showing in someone’s profile picture they are usually new and haven’t added anything yet.

I loved the suggestions about how to search for like-minded friends and businesses. Adding pictures and posting (only a short amount of characters) is fun. If you are using Twitter to promote something you will be glad to know you can link it to your Facebook page and it will automatically post there every time you ‘Tweet’. This is a lot of helpful information that can be read, and applied, in a short time.

Thank you, Pamela, for the review!

Twitter In 30 Minutes book reviewed by Night Owl Reviews

Twitter In 30 Minutes, 3rd Edition

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New genealogy book now available for preorder

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Genealogy basics bookGenealogy Basics In 30 Minutes is now available for preorder via Amazon (Kindle/Paperback). This genealogy book is a great resource for people who are interested in learning about their roots, but are concerned about confusing tools and ancestry research methods. Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes breaks it all down, starting with a simple approach to building out a family tree. It also describes various ways to gather information, including:

  • The types of vital records and non-vital documents to look for
  • Best practices for connecting with relatives, from gathering documents to conducting interviews
  • Researching family history on genealogy road trips
  • Technological tools, including online databases, GEDCOM files, and genetic genealogy
  • Using charts and forms to track research and share the results
  • How to store digital and paper records
Shannon Combs-Bennett

Shannon Combs-Bennett

Genealogy is a topic that we’ve wanted to turn into an In 30 Minutes guide for many years. In 2015 we connected with an up-and-coming genealogist and genealogy blogger, Shannon Combs-Bennett. Shannon is not only knowledgeable about researching family history, she has a science background and a deep understanding of genetic genealogy. Best of all she is a great storyteller, which helps to relate various research concepts into real-world situations.

It’s a fascinating genealogy book, and publisher i30 Media hopes you can preorder your copy today on the Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes website!

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My lean publishing advice to a prospective guidebook author

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The essence of lean media is eliminating waste, focusing creativity, and bringing audiences closer to creators. So when a prospective guidebook author queried me about setting up a publishing company to publish a series of guides about state parks in his region, here’s what I advised:

If the demand is there, I would definitely consider doing such a series. I would first try to determine what the demand is, based on things like state park attendance (which is probably publicly available somewhere) and the competition … and creating a test book (as yourself, not through a company) to see how people react.

If there is already a popular book or state park brochure series that covers the state parks, and it is cheap, that would be something you would have to address as you will be competing with them. Maybe your book series could offer better maps or some other information that the competition doesn’t have. In other words, offer a premium feature (for a premium price).

On the other hand, if the competition is expensive and stands tall on quality, you will have to position yourself differently. Say the competition is a big photo book about state parks. Maybe you could price your series lower, or you could try sizing the paperbacks to be able to fit in someone’s pocket, which is a selling point the photo book can’t match.

Keep in mind that setting up a company comes with real costs … I pay $1500 a year to my accountant to maintain my books, plus $500 to the state government as a corporation fee, not to mention various legal costs (trademarks, agreements, copyright applications) which usually run a few thousand per year. My sales are able to support those costs, but if my series was struggling it would probably be better just to sell them on my own or as a “DBA” entity (doing business as) or sole proprietor.

Because of the potential for higher costs, running a test to see if the demand is there is a good idea. If you get some steady sales and reviews you could then start up a publishing company to take things to the next level.

Note that determining audience demand through a test edition and some other market-sizing activities (such as evaluating state park attendance) is a critical first step. Otherwise, there is a real risk of spending a lot of time, money, and effort on something that not enough people are interested in.

Dropbox In 30 MinutesThis is in fact how I started the IN 30 MINUTES series, with a DIY first edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes back in 2012. It started selling a few copies per day, as did the next book in the series, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Once I knew the demand was there, I went ahead and created the corporate entity in early 2013. Now we sell thousands of copies every year of our most popular titles!

The other element that I touched upon in my reply was Positioning. I have blogged about the concept of positioning in the past after reading the book Positioning. It’s a really helpful way to think about creating and marketing products in a crowded marketplace.  According to the lead author of the book Positioning (Al Ries), it makes sense to work with what customers already know. Marketing strategy for a new product should be built from the perspective of the “prospect”, rather than the perspective of the company (and the ego of company executives). Often, this involves finding the hole that the market leaders have neglected or don’t serve well. Hence, my advice to the guidebook author to do his book in a different way than the existing competition.

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