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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Case for Case Studies

When I'm buying some product or service for the first time I like to know as much as I can before turning over my money. I'm eager to find out how others view whatever it is I plan to purchase. Thanks to the Web, there are lots of review sites like Yelp or Amazon where I can evaluate things based on the opinions of others. Ideally, I look for detailed and seemingly knowledgeable reviewers who describe in length their experience with what I'm interested in getting.

In the business world, finding such information is surprisingly hard. I've always thought company and product case studies have been underutilized for PR and marketing (and even sales) purposes. That may be changing. From mega-corps to sole proprietors, businesses of all sizes seem to be expanding their comfort zone and producing as much online content as they can, which, in many cases, includes longer, more informative documents than websites made available previously, like whitepapers and, yes, case studies.

Most businesses use testimonials to lend credibility to what they're selling. And for good reason--testimonials provide third-party assurance while highlighting a product's benefits. But it's often necessary to dig a little deeper. A case study can do that. A can study can do that and more. A thoughtful and well written case study serves multiple purposes: press release, data sheet, testimonial page, and more, all wrapped in a compelling narrative. It can draw in prospective buyers like bees to honeysuckle.

This can be especially important if what you're selling is new and innovative, or complex and esoteric. Its worth and benefits might not otherwise be easily apparent and understood. Or if it's pricey. A buyer might not be willing to take your company's word on its own merit, especially if big dollars are involved. Sure, an outside testimonial helps, but give the buyer a detailed and engaging story to sink his or her teeth into--a real-world tale about what another customer needed and how that customer's needs were met--and you're just a step away from closing a sale.

It's true. Case studies can help you close sales.

So if you're wondering whether or not your organization should get on the ball and produce some, the answer is...yes--case closed!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Words from the Wise: Ian McEwan's Writing Process

It's been a while since I've posted one of these videos, but there are times when we writers need a little inspiration to add brilliance to whatever project we're working on, and if brilliance can't be achieved, I know I'd gladly settle simply for getting whatever work done that currently sits on my plate.

So, to that end, take heart and inspiration from one of the world's great writers, Ian McEwan. While we can't all match his prose, we can perhaps use his daily writing rituals as a guide to follow. (One thing he does that I wish I could do is shut off his Web and email access--oh that must be nice!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seven Questions to Consider When Self-Publishing a Book

By George Kittredge, Book1One

You’ve written your Great American Novel and you’re ready to publish. You have a pile of wedding photos and you want to create a keepsake for yourself, your friends and your family. You’re a genealogist researching your roots or a local historian and you’ve got your manuscript, photos, and maps organized. You’re a doctoral student prepared to submit your thesis.

You’ve got your book in hand (or at least on your computer) and it’s ready to go. Now what do you do?

Many people in your shoes turn to the Internet to find a self-publishing website to create their own book. And with technological advances in digital printing, it’s a relatively easy process.

So when you’re faced with the long list of resources under the search term “self-publishing,” and you find a website that seems like a good one, make sure you ask yourself these questions before you press the “place order” button.

1. What type of company should I use to produce my book?

The answer to this question depends on what types of services you need. Are you marketing and distributing your own book? Are you sharing your books only with family? If so, a book manufacturer might be the best way to go, instead of a full-service book self-publishing company.

Book manufacturers and book publishers are often thought of as being the same, but there are significant differences between the two. In the simplest terms, book manufacturers are strictly book printers and binders – a resource used by those who want to self-publish. Typically, they receive digital book files created by authors, and produce finished books based on page size, type of paper, binding style, and other book options their authors may want.

Unlike book publishers, book manufacturers do not offer editorial, proofreading, design, layout, marketing and promotion, or other support services commonly offered by book publishers. As a self-publishing author, you should consider that a book manufacturer is an outsourced service provider, in much the same manner as a professional graphic designer or editor.

2. How much will it cost to produce my book?

Look to companies where your only expense is the cost to print, bind and ship your books – and then find out exactly what this expense will be. You should be able to determine your cost before you submit any book files or place an order. If it’s difficult to get a price quote, beware! Know how much you’re going to pay up front before you make any commitments.

Ask if there are any set up fees or additional charges anywhere in the process. There shouldn’t be unless you are making a special request of some kind.

3. Does the company offer accessible, hands-on service if and when I may need it?

When self-publishing, one of the most frustrating things for anyone is to encounter a problem and not be able to talk to a real person. Technology is great when it works. But when it doesn’t, it’s important to have someone you can contact to help you fix the problem or answer your questions.  So after you’ve struggled through the FAQ section on a website, can you obtain assistance in a timely manner?  

Look for a company that has free, reliable “hands-on” service. Ask them what the procedure is to get assistance if and when you may need it. Consider: is customer support based in America and are their representatives native English speakers? Do you have to pay extra for a live person to respond to your inquiry? Avoid companies who ask you to pay for live customer service.

4. What is the minimum quantity requirement?

We’ve all heard the horror story about the author that produced 3000 copies of his new book, only to have them wind up in his garage. With today’s digital technology and short run capabilities, there is no reason to produce more copies than you need – and to produce them at a reasonable cost. Some book manufacturers have no minimum quantity requirements – even for hard cover books. But some do, so be sure to ask.

If you are creating your book for a small targeted audience or if you’re not sure how many books you will initially sell, a short-run book manufacturer is your best choice. You can always increase the number of copies in future production runs as the demand for your book increases – and eliminate the fear of filling up your garage with books.

5. Is the book production process easy to understand and easy to work with?

Ask the book manufacturer how their process works. Look to see if there are any testimonials on their website regarding how easy their processes are, and find out how long it will take to produce your books once they have received your digital files.

If you are producing your books in a soft cover, coil bound or saddle stitch binding, they should be ready within a business week or sooner. Hard cover books may take slightly longer.  If you anticipate having a tight deadline to meet, ask if you can place a rush on your project. You may have to pay an extra charge, but in certain situations, a company that offers a rush option is a plus.

6. What is the quality of their work?

Every company will say they offer a high quality product, but some are higher than others. And some may be better at producing the kind of book you want than others – particularly if you are interested in hard cover books that require special equipment, materials and expertise (i.e. faux leather covers, foil stamping, or sewn binding).

Some indicators of quality are the type of printing equipment they use (is it the latest technology?), and the materials and expertise that go into their binding operations. You may ask for a sample of a book they have recently made that is similar to the one you want to produce. Look for customer testimonials regarding the quality of their work, and find out what kind of guarantees they offer regarding their workmanship.

In particular, look for an “acceptable range” – sometimes a book manufacturer will say that they have an acceptable range of +/- 1.25 percent. That means that the quality of text or an image is “acceptable” if it is within 25 percent clarity and/or color of the image you sent. An “acceptable range” is usually not acceptable at all, and you’ll be stuck with bad books.

Another advantages of working with a short-run book manufacturer is that you can produce small quantities and make changes to your book files before the next production run. You can also “personalize” your books to accommodate a special customer or for use at a special event.

7. Do they offer you choices?

Most book manufacturers should be able to affordably produce your book in a number of sizes (height and width), so you shouldn’t have to produce an 8 ½ x 11-inch or 6 x 9-inch book if you don’t want to. Keep in mind, however, that part of your production cost is based on how many pages can be printed from a sheet of paper. Ask if there are “optimum” page sizes you should consider that can reduce your cost.

Another choice involves the binding of your book. Highly skilled book manufacturers can give you a variety of options. Typical choices should include a soft cover (called perfect binding or paperback); hard cover (with either a printed cover wrap or dust jacket); plastic coil binding (ideal for technical books, cookbooks or other books that are good for lying flat for note taking); and saddle stitch binding.

One of the benefits of working with a company that offers a variety of binding choices is that it gives you the opportunity to produce your book in more than one binding style. For example, you may want to print most of your copies with a soft cover, but also produce a small quantity in a hard cover binding to send to book reviewers and special recipients, or to sell through a specialty, non-traditional book outlet.

Today, an increasing number of authors are choosing to self-publish and using book manufacturers to produce their books. If you are one of them, asking the right questions will enable you to find the right company that best fits your needs.

George Kittredge is a member of the management team at Book1One (http://www.book1one.com), authored and published his own book in 2005, and has worked with self-publishing authors since 1997. He can be contacted by email at georgek@Book1One.com.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Writers as Olympians

With the London 2012 Olympic Games in full swing and gold, silver, and bronze medals going to the world's top athletes, I've been contemplating the wide breadth of events and wondering what it would be like to have an Olympic Games for writers. What events would best suit what types of writers?

Were there such a competition, here's how I think things might stack up:
  1. Marathon Runners--Novelists; scribes of epic tomes. Writers in it for the long haul.
  2. Sprinters--Shorts story writers; ad copywriters.  Writers who specialize in brevity and speed.
  3. Synchronized swimmers--collaborative screenwriters. Writers who work seamlessly with others.
  4. Boxers--Investigative journalists; op-ed columnists. Writers who pull no punches.
  5. Wrestlers--Whitepaper freelancers. Writers unafraid to put their arms around a subject.
  6. Divers--Tech writers. Writers whose every move must be exact down to the finest detail.
  7. Gymnasts--Agency writers. Writers forced to vault blindly and jump through hoops for clients.
  8. Powerlifters--Speechwriters. Writers whose words carry great weight, but risk leaving a resounding thud.
  9. Hurdlers & Steeplechase runners-- Corporate marketing writers.Writers who face a myriad of obstacles from the starting gun to the finish line.
 Got any suggestions of your own? Feel free to post them in the comments field.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Non-fiction Taboo---Making Stuff Up

Say it ain't so, Jonah! Another big-time non-fiction writer has scandalized himself by veering into the world of fiction. It seems Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works is a bit too "imaginative." He's admitted to fabricating quotes attributed to Bob Dylan which make up an extensive introduction to his book and has now resigned from his post at The New Yorker.

I read the book a few months ago and thought it was not great but all right. (You can read my review on Goodreads.)  I remember the section on Dylan being somewhat inspiring in terms of rejuvenation and stick-to-it-iveness but nothing really memorable stands out. Was it worth it? Does the Pope shit in the woods? No, of course, not.

Sometimes it pays off. Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame has built an empire that wasn't based entirely on lies, but the stories he invented and passed off as fact sure didn't hurt matters. He's tainted now, sure, but his bank account is quite large. And James Frey rode his fictive memoir A Million Little Pieces to the throne of Oprah before being tossed overboard and into the sea of ignominy.

Non-fiction sells better than fiction but fiction writers give themselves a world of possibilities. When I write a story I can play around with words until a character says exactly what I want him to say. Even when writing PR and communications materials I can put words in the mouth of an executive that would never be spoken otherwise. "Just make me sound smart, ha ha," is what they will typically say. And so I do, and then they sign off, and all is good in the world.

Hmm, maybe Jonah Lehrer could have gotten Dylan's okay before his book went to publication. Now, however, Lehrer must feel the breeze from Dylan's "Idiot Wind," and be thinking: Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.