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Category: Just for Writers

The world of deep metadata for your books: LCCN, PCIP, MARC, ISNI, ISTC, OCLC, and more

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

This 4-part post covers a lot of the bibliographic data that holds the knowledge part of the book trade together, with a section for each of these.

I've written about ISBNs elsewhere. If you're a member of the #neverISBN or the #oneISBNtoRuleThemAll tribes, then this post is not for you — the ISBN holds it all together. It's a prerequisite for all of this. And remember, the ISBN identifies a single format of your work.

Many of these standards are international, but some of the national library stuff is, well, national. I'm describing the situation in the US, but other countries have similar setups.

The intent of this post is to provide basic orientation for indie authors. To find out more about these standards and the groups that maintain them, break out your search engines and go to work.

Will you sell any more books if you enable these standards for your books? Probably not. But there are other reasons to create and maintain high-quality bibliographic data for your books, not least of which is future-proofing your work and making it just that bit more appetizing for library acquisition.

Ready or not, let's dive right in.


Index of topics

 


LCCN – Library of Congress Control Number

The Library of Congress (LoC) is the “library of record” for the United States. Check out the link — it's had a long and fascinating history. The LoC created its own cataloguing system, the Library of Congress Classification, which gives every document an individual identifying number, the LCCN.

LCCNs refer only to print editions. You get one from the Library of Congress by asking for one. It can be a confusing process, mostly because of the nomenclature of the various programs. (Here is a useful guide.) Basically, you sign up for a program (the Pre-Assigned Control Number program, or PCN) that allows you to request an LCCN, which is in the form of YYYYnnnnnn, where “YYYY” is the current year, and “nnnnnn” is a numerical sequence that starts over each year.

Once granted, the LCCN goes on the copyright page of your book like this:

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012040017

Incidentally, the LoC makes LCCN records for other things. For example, it maintains various “authority” lists such as subjects and names, and other systems can refer to them (such as Worldcat (OCLC) below).


Index of topics


Narrating and producing your own audiobooks

Posted in Audiobook, Just for Writers, and Production

I'm in the process of setting up an ad hoc home studio for narrating and recording audiobooks, and I know I'm not the only one. So I thought I'd share some of my choices with you and explain why I made them.

Right now, I have only one audiobook out. I did the narration, and a local music studio did the professional sound engineering. At $100/finished hour (for a 14.5 hour book), I was reluctant to do more, but I've decided that was a paltry excuse and I should just find a better, more financially acceptable route. You can read about that decision here.

My voice is up to the task, so all I need is gear and a room to use. Alas, I don't have the luxury of even a dedicated closet, nor can I panel a room with sound baffles. So, like most of us, I have to use the best space I can and make it as suitable as possible for quality recordings.

Typical domestic audio studio room

And that can be tricky. Once you've found the room that is the most isolated from all the noisy activities of a household (furnace, television, affection-starved pets, oblivious spouses and children) you have to consider how you can make it work for recording.

Helpful tips for new writers: 2

Posted in Just for Writers, and Tips for New Writers

At the request of a colleague, I'm spending some time talking to some writers far, far away that she's working with, and I thought it would be useful to collect the presentation in a blog post for them, and for anyone else who might be interested. You can find all the posts in this series here.

I can't possibly touch on more than a handful of topics in a single session, so I'll just mention a few that I think are important:

* Stages of a Career
* All Writing is Practice
* Read in Your Genre (and Read the Best)

As question/answers are added during the talk, I'll update this.
 
 
 

Introduction

I'm Karen Myers, and I've been a writer of fantasy and science fiction books for four years. I came to this late, after an official career building computer software and services companies that lasted four decades.

Today I have eight novels in two series and several shorts stories and bundles for a total of twenty titles, and I'm halfway through the first book in a new series. I aim to produce about four novels/year —  that's what I did in 2016.

I'm an independent author — all my books are available worldwide, in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats. I'll be bringing most of the audiobook editions out this year (only one is currently available).

As an independent author, I'm in charge of all aspects of publishing, from writing and editing, to layout and formatting, covers, audio recording and production, distribution, marketing, and all the finances of the business. Almost the only thing I don't do myself are the cover backgrounds and titles (though I do the Photoshop work that adds my author name, imprint, and blurb to the work from my cover artist and I make all the output formats). Independents work with various third parties for those parts of the publishing business that they can't or won't do themselves, and different authors have different needs for those services.

This is not the only time I've taken on serious work in the arts. I picked up a violin for the first time in my 30s, and a camera in my 50s, so I know what it's like to go from nothing to reasonably competent. I'm finding it's no different for writing fiction, now that I'm a few years into it. You can see some of my other interests here.

Just about all the best advice I've ever gotten came to me from people just a little further along on the same path, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do the same in my turn.

Stages of a career

I listen to the advice of others, especially those who have been writing for decades. I've only been writing fiction for four years, but I've read thousands of books in my genre and know what I'm aiming at in the stories themselves. From a skills perspective, I think of myself as an early middle-stage writer. I'm past my first million words, but not by much yet, and working on about 400,000 words/year at this point.

One of the hardest things for me when I started was trying to get a feel for what a typical career would be like for someone like me. That's one of the great unknowns — it's not like a business path, where the career goals are well-understood.

People come to writing for all sorts of reasons and with all sorts of goals. I can only talk about how it works for me, and what I've heard from others that resonates with me.

Beginners — Don't get discouraged!

We all start out as beginners. If you love classical music and pick up a violin for the first time, it's a deadly disappointment. Most people give up right away. It's a cliché that all artists think what they're producing is no good, and will never be any good.

Go see part one of this series for more on this topic. You have to understand that the beginning of any career in the arts is like this, and most people feel like unworthy imposters for much or all of their career. You have to learn to just keep on going anyway. If you just keep at it, and work on improving, you really will get better. It works for writing just like it does for everything else in life.

Got a few books done? — Believe that it will get easier to live with the anxiety.

Why your book descriptions don’t look right

Posted in Formatting, and Just for Writers

We go to a lot of trouble to make our book descriptions as good as we can — not just their content, but the way they look. Many of us have learned basic HTML tagging in order to provide formatting for book descriptions as part of our work publishing a book.

As soon as you go beyond the world of Amazon-only, you begin to lose control of what distributors and retailers do to your pretty book descriptions. And it takes special effort to make the book description inside your book look good, too.

Doesn't always work, though. Not all methods are suitable for all situations, and there are limits to what you can control.

As in all such things, the devil's in the details.

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

HTML Markup to use for websites

What I think of as the original text usually appears on the book's product page on your own author and/or publisher websites.

You have complete control over what this looks like.

You can see a simple use of <strong> and </strong> to mark the bold section (same as using <b> and </b>). This was created in WordPress, and the paragraph behavior is instantiated by the underlying WordPress theme (in other words, I didn't need to place paragraph marks <p> and </p> around each paragraph.)

HTML Markup to use for ebook front-of-book blurbs

Ebooks are special packages of HTML files, in a compressed (zip) container. I make my ebooks using Sigil, and each chapter is an underlying file in the container. The opening page shows a book description.

You have complete control over what this looks like, within the limitations of HTML supported by ebooks.

Participating in the book trade

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

All kinds of industries

I've been a business entrepreneur all my life, primarily in the software and IT industries. In addition to building companies, I've had to build a working understanding of other industries and sectors in order to provide services for them: logistics, health care, educational testing, banks, brokerages, and several others. My businesses were small and mid-size, but most of my clients were large Fortune-500 sorts of companies.

I've prided myself on being able to dive into a new-to-me industry and burrow down into its basic gears and levers, so that I can analyze how it works. In many cases, I've had to understand it well enough to create software for it that would cover all situations, and that takes a deep understanding of what can happen.

So when I decided to become an independent author, I was cocky about applying the same acumen to the book trade. After all, I wanted to know all about how it worked and how to match my new business with it successfully. That naive expectation didn't last long.

Here's the problem…

Asking for book reviews

Posted in Just for Writers

book-review

See that illustration? You know what's wrong with it?

Readers don't owe anything to authors, including thanks, and we shouldn't presume that they do if we want them to continue as customers.

At least, that's what I think. And here's why.

Authors often seek recommendations on what to include in the back matter of their books. The potential list is long:

  • Thanking the reader
  • Asking for book reviews
  • Pointing the reader at links for more information about the book they just read
  • Offering the reader a newsletter to subscribe to, for information about books (with perhaps a bonus giveaway)
  • Offering the reader a way to contact the author (sometimes including links to social media)
  • Telling the reader about the next book in a series, or about another book
  • Presenting the first chapter of the next book in a series, or another book

One of these, the “ask for review,” was recently in the news as something that traditional publishers have begun including in the back matter of their books, apparently learning from independent authors.

When I first published my books in 2012 and for a couple of years thereafter, I also asked for reviews in the back matter, just as a standard practice, but I've stopped doing it.

Why would I do that? Don't I want them to leave book reviews?

Let me explain…

Of course, I would like to have more reviews — who wouldn't? But what I would like, even more, is for someone who has just finished a book to be eager to look at and buy my other books. That “bird in the hand” of a satisfied reader is far more important to me than another drop in the review bucket for a potential reader down the line. My customer is a customer first, way ahead of being a member of my marketing team.

I think asking for the review smacks of desperation and comes across as a bit unprofessional. I don't want my reader to start thinking of me that way.

And you know what? It doesn't make any difference to the number of reviews I get, near as I can tell. The review rate seems to be about 1-3% of units sold (I don't do freebies), and that seems to be good across most current and active authors, trad or indie.

Think about what that means… That means that 97-99% of my readers didn't leave a review. And every one of them probably felt a bit uncomfortable about it, if they read the request. Did that make them less likely to buy another book? Who knows?

Here's my take on the psychology of it (aside from the vibe it sends)…

If the person is accustomed to writing reviews, then they'll write one or not, regardless of what I say, just as if it were any other author's book.

But if they're not so accustomed, we're asking them to change their behavior to accommodate us. We're asking for a favor. But that's not the transaction deal our readers make — the deal was, they give us money, and we give them entertainment.

Not everyone wants to learn a new behavior
Not everyone wants to learn a new behavior

It's as though we only published ebooks and asked people who only read print to learn how to use a new format just so they can access our books. That's asking them to change behavior, too.

Unless we are in the “super-cool, new trend” category and we've encountered a techie (and even then), asking people to change their behavior to do us a favor isn't really going to work. And it may embarrass or guilt the recipient, which is not how we want them to think about us.

Better to just thank them, give them the “for more information” and newsletter signup links, and send them on to the “1st chapter of next book” with its link so they can buy the next one while they still like us.

That's more important than a book review any day.

Metadata for ebooks

Posted in Just for Writers

justmetadataI was talking to a colleague about missing metadata in an ebook file and discovered that she didn't fully understand what I was talking about.

I'm sure she's not alone.

So here's a little overview about where it comes from and how it's used. As they say, the devil's in the details.

What metadata is visible to retailers?

Here’s an entry for one of my books at a random retailer I’ve never heard of. Since it seems to be in Romania, it probably got there via distributor PublishDrive. (Many retailers are worse, even those whose local language is English.)

http://www.elefant.ro/ebooks/carte-straina/en-fiction/fantasy-contemporary/to-carry-the-horn-341560.html

Produs publicat in 2012 la Perkunas Press
Data aparitiei: Octombrie 2012
Colectia The Hounds of Annwn
ISBN EPUB: 9780963538413
Formate: ePub (Adobe DRM)
Drepturi utilizare: 6
Compatibil cu: PC/Mac, iPad/iPhone, Android, Nook, Sony, Trekstor (afla mai multe)
Clasament bestseller:
#11005 in Carti digitale
#4 in eBooksCarte strainaEN – FICTIONFantasy – Contemporary

PublishDrive asks all sorts of metadata information, just like Amazon KDP does, and this site seems to understand that the book is part of a series (The Hounds of Annwn), though its link to a series page points somewhere else in error.

Colectia The Hounds of Annwn

Understandably, it doesn’t note which entry in the series it is (should be #1) since it doesn’t have a field for it on the screen.

categoriesI am fascinated to discover that the book is #4 in its category (especially since I have no known sales here), though less so when I realize (clicking on “Fantasy – Contemporary”) that my books are the ONLY books in that category, no doubt because it’s an English-language category.

#4 in eBooksCarte strainaEN – FICTIONFantasy – Contemporary

In this case, note how few English fiction (EN – FICTION) books there are, and how Fantasy is displayed.

Constraints and remedies

Retailers can only display data they've planned for. If they haven’t planned for non-English categories, then they can’t use them (and won’t translate them on the fly or try to match them up to the local language). If they don’t have a field for series order (or sometimes for series name), then they won’t display it.

Even the best and most detail-oriented of modern distributors can’t shove fields (like series order) into retailer sites that don’t use them.