Friday, March 4, 2011

The Future of Book Publishing for Freelancers

Today I had the honor of speaking to the Indianapolis Freelancers Group on the future of publishing. My co-presenter was Mary Bednarek, Executive Acquisitions Director, Dummies Tech, for Wiley.

Mary and I have both been knocking around the local publishing scene for more than 20 years, but we managed to never meet one another before today. No matter. Our approach to the subject was in sync (“Great minds…,” she told me later). She expanded on and reinforced my points below and added the perspective of a much larger publisher.

As promised, here is the outline I developed beforehand:

1. The current situation is difficult for some freelancers.
  • Economic contraction has caused some publishers to reduce their title counts—trying to publish smarter, not harder.
  • Everyone is still recovering from the massive publishing layoffs in December 2009.
  • Publishers are keeping more work in-house and asking for more productivity from employees—especially in the third and fourth quarters of the year.
  • Nonfiction book sales are declining overall because people can get “good enough” information online for free.
  • People who have had a steady gig with one publisher are suddenly finding themselves without work.
  • Employment for editors, writers, and authors is expected to rise by 8% by 2018; however, competition for these jobs is expected to be fierce (see the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook).

2. How will the shift to e-books affect freelancers?

  • 40 million people will have e-readers in 2011.
  • Penguin’s e-book revenues were up 182% in 2010.
  • Borders bankruptcy means fewer opportunities for people to find and buy printed books.
  • Content still needs to be edited and indexed.
  • More proofreading may take place in PDFs.
  • Book design for text-heavy books will be simplified and more utilitarian for easy conversion to e-books. It will pay to be familiar with XML, Mobi, and how to convert PDFs to other e-book formats.
  • More advanced apps and readers (iPad, Blio) will require richer content, with animation, embedded videos, audio, and so on.
  • Everybody thinks they need an app, but nobody seems to be able to recommend a good iPhone app developer!

3. Networking is still the key to finding freelance work.

  • Publishers are reluctant to hire someone they have never worked with before. It takes time to evaluate and train new freelancers. Most have their tried-and-true favorites and don’t need more help beyond them. It’s really a buyer’s market in Indy!
  • Look to people you worked with when you were in house.
  • Find people for whom you formerly worked who have moved to other publishers. (The “Macmillan Diaspora” has produced an amazing array of connections all over the country. Find them on LinkedIn and Facebook.)

4. Look to nontraditional markets.

5. Follow the experts online to see where they think it’s all headed.

Mary urged freelancers to go out and get their hands on the various e-readers and familiarize themselves with how text looks in them. She also provided this great list of resources for editors:

Obviously, nobody can tell you exactly how this tumultuous time in publishing is going to pan out. My former next-door neighboor Andy Harris, a Wiley author, suggests that things in publishing might seem like they are out of order, but it's really just the beginning of a new order. It's exciting (and a little scary) to think where it all might lead.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Frankfurt, Komme Ich!

The 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair is in full swing. By Friday (as it starts to wind down), I will be in its midst for the very first time. My excuse for never having gone before is that my company does very little international rights business. Most of our material does not translate well to other economies. So it hasn't been worth the effort to pursue translation deals.

I wouldn't really be going this year, either, if it weren't for my husband, the FBF veteran, who thinks I need to see it. This is his 11th year at the fair. It does seem strange that he has inhabited this world for so long and I know nothing of it first hand.

Frankfurt, however, is just a Teutonic appetizer to the real dish of my trip: Athens and Santorini, baby! I have always wanted to visit Greece, so finally I get my chance.

I have been driven to frenzied distraction trying to make sure everything back home is taken care of in my absence. I'm thankful for my mom and my mother-in-law, who make my biennial Euro-jaunts possible by looking after my kiddo and my home. Just a few last-minute details tonight (like, ahem, not living out my recurring nightmare of leaving my passport at home) and I should be ready to go.

You know the best part? I am not taking my computer! My iPod has a few Community and 30 Rock episodes on it, and I loaded up the Kindle with some Nick Hornby (and I still need to finish Eat, Pray, Love--am almost to the love part!). But I am hoping to break my Facebook dependence cold turkey. It will all still be there when I get back. (Won't it?)

Auf weidersehen und αντίο!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Top 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Editing Career Books

Last week I spoke at the monthly meeting of the Indianapolis chapter of the ExecuNet business networking group. When I was invited to speak back in January, I decided that my particular expertise on the subject of job hunting is that I have been reading the collective wisdom of the top minds in the careers business for 11 years. Ten things stood out to me as being the most essential but overlooked secrets to all aspects of job hunting. For your reading pleasure, here's my outline for the speech:

1. Keep your network in good repair.

  • Don’t wait until you need help to reach out to your network.
  • Networking should be a constant reaching out to people you know (former coworkers, family, friends, service providers) and people you don’t (people you share something or someone in common with).
  • Networking is about giving, too.
  • Networking yields up to 80 percent of all jobs landed.

2. Treat your job search like a job.

  • Spend 40 hours a week on your search.
  • Get up on time, get dressed, and work in your “office.”
  • Make a search schedule and stick to it.
  • Don’t underestimate how long it takes to find a job.

3. Write a customized cover letter for every opportunity you apply to.

  • Resumes can still be more general, but the cover letter must be very specific.
  • Write to a specific person—get a name (hiring manager, not HR).
  • Show, point by point, how you are a fit for the job.
  • Show your enthusiasm for the job.
  • Close actively rather than passively.

4. Emphasize accomplishments on your resume rather than job duties.

  • Just one or two lines for your job duties. Use bullets to emphasize accomplishments (six for current job and three for past jobs).
  • Accomplishments show how you affected the bottom line: How you made money for the company, saved money, grew customer base, created products, developed procedures, won awards.
  • Accomplishments must be quantified with numbers.

5. Build a professional and appealing online presence.

  • Get on LinkedIn, create a professional profile, reconnect with your colleagues, and get recommendations.
  • Make Facebook settings as private as possible; still, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mom to read. Untag unflattering photos.
  • Use Twitter to show your industry knowledge, connect with decision makers, and find out about job openings.
  • If you are good at writing and information sharing, showcase your knowledge in a blog. Again, show some personality but don’t ever say anything that makes you look like a bad employee.

6. Use the Internet the right way in your job search.

  • Professional networking
  • Company research
  • Applying for jobs directly with companies

7. Don’t waste a lot of time chasing job postings.

  • Competition dramatically increases once a job is posted online or in the classifieds.
  • Use your network to find the opportunities before they are posted.
  • Don’t spend all day hiding behind your computer. Get out of the house and make connections.

8. Be prepared to back up anything you say about yourself in an interview with an example.

  • Behavioral interviewing: Tell me about a time when you…
  • Develop a success story to illustrate your top qualities and skills.
  • Challenge, actions, result format.

9. Put off talking about salary as long as possible in the process.

  • Most employers that ask for a range in the ad will still consider you without one (except those who state explicitly that they will not).
  • Whoever mentions a number first, loses.
  • You might name a number that is out of their range, and they will not consider you.
  • You might name a number that is lower than they were prepared to offer.
  • Defer the question by saying you want to focus on whether you are a fit for the job first. Can talk salary later.
  • If you have no choice, name a range.

10. Hiring experts to help you with your search can be worth the investment.

  • Trying to write your own resume is like cutting your own hair—difficult, and it probably won’t end up looking great from all angles.
  • Professional resume writers can be objective and cut what needs to be cut, prompt you for accomplishments, and present you in the best light.
  • Career coaches help you get to the truths inside you, promote what’s most impressive about you, show you the best ways to search, hold you accountable, and offer encouragement.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In Defense of Prince

Yesterday we all got a good laugh from an enchanting little story written by Peter Willis for the Daily Mirror (UK). In it, he is allowed exclusive access to secretive pop star Prince's enclave and paints him as a modern-day musical Willie Wonka. No such story would be complete without revealing some of His Purpleness' quirks (of which there are many). But what emerged as the main thrust was this quote:

The Internet's completely over.

Prince's statement was, of course, met with as much derision as when Al Gore purportedly said he invented the thing. Yes, it's rather absurd today to try and imagine life after the Internet. But what I think he might have been saying was that as a music-delivery medium, the Internet is over for him. Obviously, he's got some contractual problems with Apple and some copyright issues in general. I always root for the underdog, so I'm hoping he can find a way around it all.

Prince goes on to say that

All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you.

Again, hilariously unhip, right? But isn't a nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that he might have a point? Whatever the gadgets are filling your head with (in my case, so many words and thoughts and conflicts that my cerebellum fairly buzzes) is disruptive to society. People are finding it harder and harder to relate to one another IRL. It's easy to sit behind your computer and pull the strings, blaming others for our own problems. I fear we will forget how to get out there and live life and be responsible for ourselves.

Another of Prince's documented quirks that I think has merit is his status as a "teetotal vegan." Drinking still water and eating raw fruits and veggies is about as pure as it gets. I will probably never break away from my fondness for the occasional seared cow flesh and fermented grape. But if I can eat just a little more like Prince, it sure wouldn't hurt anything. Maybe I'll start asking myself "WWPE?" (What Would Prince Eat?).

Bottom line: Yes, Prince prances to the beat of a different drum than most of us. But it's that eccentricity that fuels his genius, and I admire his spunk.



Monday, May 10, 2010

Is It Time for a Resume Makeover?

If you're like me, your current resume has probably been evolving since you applied for your first job (and for me, that's been more than 20 years—ouch). I've added jobs and tweaked the presentation for lo these many decades, but it's all still based on that first document.

For a couple of years, I have been writing resumes professionally in my "spare" time. Along with writing, editing, and marketing skills, I've been able to bring my clients something rare and valuable: Brutal objectivity. "It's great that you used to groom poodles. But that has absolutely nothing to do with manufacturing engineering, so let's cut it!" In the back of my mind, I've always known that my own resume could benefit from some of that, too. But something (lack of time, sentimentality, laziness, whatever) has kept that task on the back burner.

Last week something finally clicked, though. I had just done a couple of elegantly streamlined resumes for friends whose careers have been longer and much more illustrious than my own. If the highlights of their careers can fit on two pages without having to resort to two columns and tiny type, why can't mine?

Another contributing factor was the arrival of a volunteer resume writing mentor. Just hours after I woke up from a dream with the words "I need a guru!" on my mind, I was contacted by a longtime professional resume writer who offered to mentor me toward formal certification. It was truly cosmic. Her edits have shown me that I am still too profligate with words—most especially on my own resume.

So I'm doing it now: I'm starting over from scratch. Here are some things I'm changing:

  • Adding more white space. This means, of course, that I'm cutting words. Lots of words.
  • Letting go of some earlier jobs. Although I might mention my experience as a newspaper reporter to support my writing ambitions, it won't get more than a phrase (and certainly not a date).
  • Not listing a bunch of specific book projects. My current resume lists a half-dozen example projects for each job. I think I will instead mention only a few that are particularly impressive in terms of their sales and scope. Maybe I'll create a separate, more comprehensive list of books I've edited and call that an addendum. But maybe adding the quantifying phrase "edited more than 300 books" in my summary will suffice.
  • Dropping education details. I don't need to mention my 20-year-old activities and internships. I'll just give my degree, my major and minor (because it was PR), and the fact that I graduated summa cum laude. I won't be giving the date. I'm not quite old enough to be discriminated against because of age, but it won't be long until I am.
  • Tightening job descriptions. My guru says they can't be more than three lines long. This is tough.
  • Quantifying all bulleted accomplishments. If I can't attach a number to them, I can't use them.
  • Adding social media contact info to the header. My resume now contains my blog address and Twitter handle because the content I've put out there is devoted to professional topics.

Of course, my work on my all-new resume has ground to a halt in favor of a new freelance editing project. But I vow to complete, polish, and post my new document within a month. What about you? Have you got the objectivity to trash your resume and start over from scratch? I challenge you to start it today! It's something proactive you can do to make yourself feel better in an unsteady economic climate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What If They Had a London Book Fair and the Americans Didn't Come?

Earlier this week I was all set to send out another ho-hum blog post about how my husband was once again heading off to the London Book Fair for the 11th year in a row. But as most people know by now, something happened.

The car service picked Jason up at 3:45am yesterday and took him to the airport to catch his Chicago flight, and from there on to London. At 7am, as my daughter and I were getting dressed, the Today show came on with the news of the volcano eruption in Iceland. I gasped. As my brain was processing how absolute the Heathrow ground halt was, the phone rang. Indeed, Jason had been advised to get off the Chicago flight (which was delayed) and go home. He rebooked through Paris for today, thinking things might improve. (Meanwhile, I drove about 100 miles round trip to fetch him, take him home, and then go to work.)

By this morning, of course, the ash situation worsened, and e-mails were flying back and forth among him and his colleagues here and in Upper Saddle River. The group's annual rights summit was scheduled for tomorrow in Dame Marjorie's private dining room overlooking the Thames from The Strand. There was no way they'd make it in time for that. So they decided to cancel it. And they also decided that the travel situation would make it nearly impossible to get there in time for the fair itself on Monday. So they surrendered to Vulcan and cancelled their trips altogether.

Jason has spent the entire day undoing all the work and plans that he's been making for months: cancelling dozens of publisher meetings, hotel rooms, flights, trains, dinners, and more. He's absolutely devastated and feels out of sorts to be here and not there. But many of his publishers responded that they, too, would not be able to make it to the fair. What can all of humankind do when Mother Nature kicks over our intricately constructed societal anthills?

Fair officials are still planning to go ahead with the event. But periodic searches of the #LBF10 hashtag on Twitter indicate that the British will likely end up doing a lot of talking to one another because even their European counterparts can't get across the Channel in time. Still, it will be a great economic loss to everyone. Such a shame.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

To Tweet or to Blog?

For several months, I've been kicking around the thought that the current Twitter craze is hurting blogs by enticing their writers to take the easy way out and just tweet instead of crafting a more substantial blog post. I know that's what I've been doing.

And back in November, Publishing 2020 blogger Joe Wikert admitted that Twitter is cutting into his blogging frequency:

The time I used to spend reading (and writing) blogs has shifted to Twitter. I find myself less attracted to the long form writing in blogs and more to the short bursts of Twitter. FWIW, I used to write 4-6 posts for this blog every week and now I typically only write one, but I also write anywhere from 3-10 or more tweets per day. Despite that, traffic continues to grow modestly and nobody has complained so it seems like the right approach.

Yo, Joe, aren't you the one who told me I needed to blog every day? Seriously, that was good advice. Posting frequently catapults your content to the top of search engine results because they like to index frequently updated sites. Like Joe, I've seriously cut back my posting frequency to about one post per week. But last time I checked, this blog was still the number-one result on Google and Yahoo for the search term "Publishing Careers." So maybe the new advice is blog every day for a couple of years, and then you can rest on your SEO laurels?

I've noticed a similar trend in readership, too. My "backlist" usually gets a lot more action than my new posts (exceptions being this post about Butler coach Brad Stevens and this post about DC Trawler blogger Jim Treacher/Sean Medlock), anyway. And my daily readership stays about the same as it's always been, but without the big spikes I used to get when I got a good mention elsewhere.

So then Monday on Twitter, I ran across this post by Adam Singer on The Future Buzz listing 19 reasons why bloggers should resist the urge to merely pass along information, but to continue creating it in the form of blogs as well. And it must have hit a nerve. I retweeted it and got tons of high-profile retweets to my own fifth-hand retweet. It's as if somebody finally said what we all didn't want to say but knew was true: Creating compelling content does more for you and your brand than if you just share links to other people's content. What a great post.

Always the catastrophizer, I also wonder whether the decline of long-form blog posts will lead to a shortage of ideas. Will it lead back to old-school journo model of the few writing to the many, and the many just echoing their words in short tweets? And those of us who started blogs just to keep the words flowing will find ourselves with a new case of writer's block.

Don't get me wrong. I still love Twitter. I learn so much more, so much faster. I've expanded my network and shared laughs with people I have never met. I've got my finger on the informational pulse of the gadget-addicted world. Love it. Can't get enough of it. It fascinates me. But people who can write and who have something to say shouldn't squander it all on tweets. So I promise I will make an effort to write more long posts like this one.