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Strategic Publishing Initiatives: TechCareers Guides

25 Sep

And then, you know, every once in a while—that is, in between screeds on POD publishers or the pleasures of doing pro bono projects or the ever-increasing price of textbooks (It’s shocking I tell you! Shocking!)—we actually get around to publishing a book now and again. In addition to the newly published and highly epic Hand Tools Manual—every intern for the last two years has worked on it in some capacity and all have trembled in awe and terror (I’m moderately kidding) when contemplating the majesty of its demanding technical illustrations and editorial guidelines—our most recent title is Biomedical Equipment Technicians, the first in our TechCareers series focusing on different technical professions.

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Print On Demand: Heartbreaking Effort on a Staggering Scale

24 Sep

One of the features added recently by WordPress—they’re the free blogging provider that we use—at the bottom of most posts is a section that says: Possibly related posts: (automatically generated). Some of the links that follow will come from our blog but most come from other blogs. The interesting thing, though, is looking at our stats page in the admin section of our blog where it lists “referrers”—that is, those pages where somebody clicked a link to come to our blog—and seeing an out of the ordinary Web address and then backtracking to find that we were one of the Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) at someone else’s blog.

This happened the other day when I found a link that led back to The Lulu Book Review but from there led me to the POD Diary, another page at that site that has the absolutely epic saga—equally fascinating and heartwrenching—of Shannon Yarbrough self publishing his novel Stealing Wishes through an online POD publisher.

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Conferences & Conventions: NISOD 2008 Wrap-Up

30 May

And, what a week—or at least half a week—it was at NISOD! I had planned to post updates daily but by the end of each day I was ready to hurl myself onto the bed in my hotel room, prop up my throbbing feet, and get caught up on the latest “must-see” (yes, that’s the ironic use of quotation marks) cable television shows given that at home we’re still happily chugging along with rabbit ears and 5-6 channels. (Even though it’s been on TV for a while, this was the first time I’d ever seen Bridezillas, which was certainly a spectacle of sorts in its own right.) Anyway, highlights of this year’s NISOD convention included:

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Meet the Publisher: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part II

24 Mar

foner-books-logo.jpgMany thanks are due to Morris Rosenthal over at his Self-Publishing blog for posting this email interview I did with him recently. Morris is one of the real gurus of self-publishing through print-on-demand (POD) and his blog is full of useful nuts and bolts information about the business. Not surprisingly, then, he asked me primarily about POD in relationship to the kind of books we publish as opposed to our operation in general as I talked with Lori Cates Hand a while back in this post at her Publishing Careers blog.

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Book Production: Top 10 Proof Copy Checklist

20 Oct

Over the next few weeks we’ll beginning receiving our spring semester book orders from different bookstores. As I’ve noted before, up to now most of our printing has been done using POD (print on demand) so we have three big print runs a year, once each before the fall, spring, and summer semesters. For a basic overview of POD, I’ve linked below to this brief, yet informative, video by Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books and the Self-Publishing blog.

POD is helpful in its own way—it allows for low inventory and reduced storage costs as well as making it possible to update books from semester to semester, a real necessity when publishing highly detailed (and quickly dated) technical information—but one of the downsides of POD is that you to go through the proof copy quality control cycle three times a year. By that, I mean that you can’t—or at least, shouldn’t—just pull a CD out of a file cabinet and send it over to print several hundred copies. Instead, especially given the ongoing organic and ever-evolving nature of our texts, we print up at least one proof copy—sometimes more—of each book to double check before sending the whole job to print.

So, here is our top 10 proof copy checklist of things we double—or triple—check one last time before sending a job to print. Some—or even most—of these things may sound pretty basic and obvious. I agree: they are (or, at least should be). Then again, I’ve seen examples of all the potential problems below in some way, shape, or form in books on the shelf from a variety of publishers.

1. Does the title on the front cover match the title page and spine?

2. Are the authors’ names spelled consistently and correctly on the front cover, spine, title page, copyright page and/or bio pages?

3. Is there a barcode on the back cover? Was an ISBN-13 used to generate it? Is it the correct ISBN? Does the price embedded in the barcode read 9000? Does the ISBN on the barcode match the ISBN on the copyright page?

4. Is the cover trimmed correctly?

5. Is the binding correct? Is it supposed to be saddle-stitch, EZ-coil, or perfect?

6. Are the interior pages black and white or color? Are the pages single-sided or backed up? Is being single-sided or backed up consistent all the way through or are there exceptions? Are the pages supposed to be perfed? Are there any color and/or perfed page inserts? If perfed, are the perforations straight? What color should any color inserts be?

7. Does every entry listed in the TOC (table of contents) have a page number that correctly matches the corresponding page in the book?

8. Is the pagination consistent? Are there any pages missing or repeated? Are odd numbered pages on the right side of the spread with even-numbered pages on the left? Are all the page breaks done correctly?

9. Did all the graphics reproduce correctly? Did any of them drop out or become corrupted?

10. Finally, are there any other elements or specifications unique to this book? Does it come with a CD or DVD? Does it have an imprint that’s different from ours? Is it a part of a multi-volume set when it is packaged—that is, shrink wrapped—for sale? Something/anything else?

Okay, so that’s more than ten questions. But, for whatever the reason, it’s dangerously easy to overlook the obvious. And there’s an awful lot of obvious to keep an eye on.

But, what’s the alternative? After all, if you do let some bone-headed—honest or not—production mistake slide through, you never can tell how much it’s going to wind up costing you. For example, I know a psych instructor at a two-year college up the highway who is looking for a new publisher for his books because the last one his most recent publisher printed came back with every page number for every entry listed in the extensive index at the back of the book as 000. I kid you not: Page after page of index entries and every single one had a page number of 000! That’s what you call dropping the ball. That’s what you call the kind of thing I could go my whole life without having us do.


Book Publishing Operations: Now We’re Done! Wait! Now We’re Starting (Again)!

28 Aug

It’s been 10-11 days since any of us here last posted due that fact that we’ve been in the throes of finishing up books, having books printed, and shipping books out to their various bookstore destinations before classes started. This time two years ago our fall semester books orders consisted of 35 copies of Basic Electronic Troubleshooting for Biomedical Technicians for a grand total of about $1,200; this year we have almost thirty titles in print with fall books sales around $50-$60K. It’s certainly better to have more work and orders rather than fewer, but I’m looking forward to the day when we can effectively package some of our books as offset press print jobs where we’re printing 2,000-5,000 copies at a time instead of having to go through the print on demand cycle three times a year (that is, once for each semester). Once upon a time, printing books by the semester for us was not that big a deal without that many titles in print—it allowed us to keep our inventory low and update books on the fly from semester to semester—but now, the printing process is becoming exponentially more complicated—more titles with more particular unique production elements—every semester as we add new 4-5 titles into the mix.

So, we delivered the last of our new math books that made up the TSTC Waco bookstore order at about eleven yesterday morning—this was after spending all day Saturday driving out to TSTC West Texas’ Sweetwater bookstore (and back) to deliver a carload of nursing books—and had a great sense of satisfaction and relief for about four hours until we—Todd, Grace, and I—had a production meeting at three o’clock to line out the fall production schedule and get started on it.

This semester we have five books in the production process—that is under Grace’s purview as our graphics specialist—that will go to print no later than December to be ready for the spring semester:

    1. Machining Technology Projects Manual (TSTC Harlingen)


    2. Two more nursing books (TSTC West Texas)


    3. The Ethics Reader (TSTC West Texas)


    4. The hand tools book (TSTC Waco)

In addition, another thing we’re doing now that Todd has survived his trial by fire by making it through his first production cycle this summer is to have him work more on the editorial development end so that manuscripts are in better shape—and requiring less work on his end—by the time Grace gets them. Although Grace can put together 4-5 books a semester in and amongst all the other things she does—managing her interns, coordinating print jobs, meeting with authors for graphics meetings, and so on—Todd will actually have more development projects to manage. That’s because he’ll have 3-4 each semester that he’ll be getting ready to move into the subsequent semester’s production schedule while keeping an eye on another 4-6 that are in the preliminary stages of being written/produced.

To that end, the projects he’s working on that will be handed off to Grace in the spring include:

    1. A developmental math book


    2. A freshman orientation textbook


    3. The first in our new career guide series


    4. An instructor’s guide for the biomedical troubleshooting book

Book projects that haven’t moved quite as far along that he’s shepherding along (or will be in the near future) include:

    1. A professional development handbook


    2. A critical thinking handbook


    3. Two technical dictionaries


    4. A sentence-level developmental writing handbook


    5. A general student guide tentatively titled

How to Make Your Professor Bark Like a Dog

All in all, the summer production cycle went relatively smoothly—much more so than last year when we were going through our first really big (for us) series of print runs—especially given that Todd had to hit the ground running when he came on board in May. As always, we’re hoping to take what we learned from this past semester—those unexpected problems that cropped up we’re hoping to avoid in the future—and have things run even more smoothly this fall . . . because we’re concentrating from this point forward on book projects that have bigger potential print runs (and thus, revenue!) where the responsibility to get things right (and on time!) are even more critical from the get go.


Book Publishing Operations: Summer 2007 Production Schedule

7 Jun

Now that June is here we are thoroughly in the midst of our summer production schedule. As always, we have a variety of projects in production as well as more in development that will enter actual production either this upcoming fall or spring.

As for textbooks, we have five in production that will be ready for fall adoptions: The Quick Math Review by Diana Gafford and Dr. Mike Hosseinpour, both from TSTC Harlingen; Contemporary Math with MAPLE by Dr. Otto Wilke, TSTC Waco; two nursing books put together by the nursing faculty at TSTC West Texas in Sweetwater, and a tool and die projects book by Art Olivares at TSTC Harlingen. In addition, we are doing some odds and ends of updates/corrections to current titles in print before we start our summer print run. (As always, we do enough books for about one semester at a time to keep our printing and storage costs down.) I was hoping that we might do a couple of books via offset printing as opposed to digital print-on-demand means but I’m not sure if at this point there is time to put that together.

In addition, we have a whole slate of projects in development that will enter the actual production cycle at different points in the future: an ethics reader/anthology, two technical dictionaries, a coffee-table book about TSTC, and the epic hand tools book that is, finally, nearing completion, although not quite quickly enough to be ready for this fall. The ethics reader is a new kind of project we’re working on: all the articles in it come from outside sources so we’re doing a lot of permissions research and negotiating that, when it all comes together, should produce a well-rounded book that will have given us good experience with working with folks outside of the TSTC System.

We also have one of our interns working on a bird’s eye view map of the TSTC Waco campus; he’s been working on this for a couple of months now and we plan on having this done in time for holiday sales this fall. (Last year I saw an exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, of nineteenth century bird’s eye view maps of Texas that gave me the idea to put something like this together for our college.) We’re also working on some sample line drawings in different styles of native Texas plants and flowers as part of a possible subcontracting job for another publisher working on a Texas gardening reference guide.

In terms of pro bono work, we’re just waiting to get materials from the Waco Cultural Arts Fest folks to put together the catalog for their fall festival. We did this last year and look forward to doing it again.

I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride at TSTC Publishing. That is, the first couple of years we weren’t at the production level we are now and, in addition, we were doing a lot of loss leader and pro bono work as a way to learn to how to do different kinds of projects. Now that we’ve published 23 books in a little less than two years, we know how to do what we do—publish books—and are streamlining and refining our processes—as opposed to still devising and developing them from scratch—so that we are as efficient as possible. Marketing issues along with some new production capabilities—namely, print-on-demand perfect binding through TSTC Waco Printing Production—are what we’ll be concentrating on the next six months or so. All in all, we’re happily on track with the overall goal of being financially self-sustaining within the next 18-24 months so that’s making me—a perennially pessimistic optimist or, maybe, an optimistic pessimist, or, perhaps, a realist—feel as good about our future potential growth as I possibly could.


Book Publishing Industry News: Budget Constricts Publishing Company

5 May

From The Daily Collegian Online on April 24, 2007:

“The new editor in chief of the Penn State University Press is faced with tenure-seeking professors clamoring for publication, librarians nationwide who can’t afford to buy his books and an industry in major upheaval.

“While professors at universities across the country are trying to publish works to achieve tenured positions, many university presses are facing monetary pressures that keep them from publishing at a higher rate.”

(Read the whole article here.)

Every day, courtesy of Publishers Marketplace, I receive Publishers Lunch, a free email newsletter full of publishing industry news. Much of its information—personnel changes at different companies and book publishing deals—doesn’t have a direct connection to our day-to-day operations. Recently, however, one newsletter had a link to the article above from the Penn State student newspaper.

The article details a couple of fundamental dilemmas facing Patrick Alexander, the editor in chief of Penn State University Press. On the one hand, due to tenure (or even basic hiring) requirements for professors the demand to publish scholarly monographs is extremely high. On the other hand, shrinking acquisitions budgets at libraries means fewer sales than ever before—he says that a book that formerly would have sold 2,000 copies might only sell 600 in today’s market—which is generating less revenue for university presses that are also receiving smaller subsidies from their schools as higher education budgets are becoming tighter as well.

On the surface, as the article notes, digital printing and online dissemination of materials seems to offer a way to cut costs. But, as is also noted, cutting out printing production costs—or at least reducing them dramatically—isn’t really enough to cover the overhead necessary to sustain a large university press publisher. (After all, it takes the same amount of labor/production costs to send a book to print that sells one copy vs. one that sells a thousand copies.) And, at the same time, publishing online in academia—especially in terms in tenure requirements—doesn’t have the acceptance, as yet, to be a viable option for many professors.

From my perspective, as might be imagined, I have much sympathy for this situation. Although we aren’t academic publishers per se—publishing textbooks more so than critical/scholarly works—we are operating under of many of these same constraints. Due to their highly specialized subjects, most of our books have relatively small print runs. (Under a 1000 copies per year for most of our titles is the general rule and we have a few that are well under 500 copies a year.) At the same time, we use print on demand to keep our inventory down—thus lowering storage and printing costs—but, ultimately, the fewer copies you print (and then sell) makes for an inherently smaller potential margin of profit.

So, what’s the answer? Well, if I knew for sure, we’d be financially self-sustaining already. (That said, we are ahead of schedule based on the business plan we put together last year.) The easy answer, I suppose, is to be as business-minded as possible. If you look at the history of university press publishing in, say, August Frugé’s A Skeptic Among Scholars: August Frugé on University Publishing (A Centennial Book), you see it was a gentleman’s game where monetary considerations were relatively déclassé concerns. (As a side note, for example, when I was growing up and would talk to my dad, at that point a English professor, about higher education, financial/budgetary issues never really came up. Later in life, when I became a publisher and he became an upper-level college administrator, the only thing we ever talk about is money.)

And, as well, if you look at the history of for-profit ventures in higher education, which is what our kind of publishing operation is, you see that many of the people behind these efforts have little or no business experience. In particular, too many people in higher education see collecting money for a service rendered or a product delivered being the same as inevitably making a profit. (This is speaking from my own experience, as well, by virtue of having an MA in English when, at this point, I often wish I had an MBA.) Making money in any business is hard work and if you don’t have the right mindset going into a venture it’s easy to lose a lot of money. Certainly, it’s a little unrealistic, just a little, to expect higher ed professionals, who have a long history of being subsidized in a variety of different ways, to suddenly understand how to turn a profit at the drop of a hat.

In addition, I think another problem indirectly illustrated by the article is that schools are churning out too many people with graduate degrees for which there is no market for their skills. This is a system that I think has to, at some point, just collapse under its own weight. I mean, given the cost explosion for college education, how long can you have people earning advanced (or even undergraduate) degrees in areas in which they will never make enough money to pay for their student loans? (When I was in graduate school I was determined to specialize in medieval Icelandic sagas until one of my professors pulled me aside and informed me that unless I wanted to be perpetually unemployed after graduation I better concentrate on something for which there was an actual market. It was the one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.) Once upon a time, when college was cheap, people could afford to get degrees in fundamentally unmarketable areas of study just for the sake of it. But, when many students run up twenty thousand dollars in student loan debt for even a two-year degree, I think it’s fundamentally misleading for schools to continue to flood any job market with an ever increasing amount of graduates for which there is no demand.

Update: This article, “‘Top Chef’ Dreams Crushed by Student Loan Debt,” from The New York Times on May 7, 2007, discusses the problems of students earning culinary arts degrees whereupon the jobs they subsequently find will not allow them to pay their student loans. While I was referring above primarily to specialized, advanced liberal arts degrees, this can happen in other areas, especially with high-priced proprietary schools. This is one of the things that makes Texas State Technical College such a good deal: the overall cost at TSTC of a two-year degree to learn a specific, marketable skill is much lower than what you’ll find at private technical schools.


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Recommended Publishing Resources: Blogs About Publishing

12 Jan

One of the hardest things about breaking into publishing the way I did—moving directly from teaching into starting the publishing operation at TSTC—was that I didn’t know anyone in the field with whom to discuss the actual day-to-day realities of publishing beyond what I could learn from books I was reading. (And I sure didn’t know anyone with whom I could commiserate about those realities as well!) Thankfully, after casting around on the Internet, I have come across several industry-related blogs that I read on a fairly regular basis which give me that “friend in the biz” fix I needed.

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of intents and purposes. Some are not-so-thinly veiled marketing/promotional vehicles. Some are so technically nuts-and-bolts oriented that only the most dedicated insider could glean anything of interest from them. The blogs I like to read are ones that are a mix of the personal and professional—and which are posted to on a regular basis—where different aspects of the publishing industry are discussed from the perspective of someone who is in the mix of it on a daily basis. These three blogs below meet all of my necessary requirements for being a worthwhile expenditure of my time to keep up with and I hope that anyone interested in publishing might find them of interest as well. (Just click the name of any of the blogs below and the link will take you to it.)

Self Publishing

Morris Rosenthal, of Foner Books, focuses his blog on the ways in which print-on-demand and e-book publishing have created a whole new model for self publishing. Given that, he is constantly pondering the big question as to whether this new model of POD and digital books are an end unto themselves or, as he asks, just a transitional phase between traditional self publishing models and free Internet distribution.

Anna Louise’s Journal

Anna Louise Genoese is self-admittedly cantankerous, easily annoyed, vegetarian, and an editor at Tor Books, a publisher of, among other genres, sci-fi and fantasy books. Her blog has much to do with day-to-life as a book editor in addition to many astute observations about the publishing industry that has attracted quite a following among her online readers. She also has a companion Web site, Anna’s Red Pen, where she has organized and archived much of what she has written about publishing.

Pub Rants

Kristin Nelson describes herself as a very nice literary agent who indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry on her blog. She is also the driving force behind the Nelson Literary Agency where she represents a number of authors who write in a variety of different areas.

Final Thoughts

As always, I have to note in closing that I can only vouch for these blogs above being ones I find interesting and, therefore, perhaps of some interest to others. I cannot make any claims (or endorsements) relating to the particular services offered by Anna Louise Genoese, Kristen Nelson, or Morris Rosenthal. I am just a dedicated lurker at their sites who appreciates what they have to say and how they say it. So, when I say “friend in the biz” as I did above, this refers entirely to the feelings I get from reading their blogs; it’s not an indicator of any actual personal/professional communication/relationship with them.


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