Are Print Books Still a Thing?

People still want to read printed books.

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“When the ebook arrived 10 years ago, some pundits suggested format did not matter. But they were wrong. A beautiful hardback is a joy, something to cherish, shelve and pass on, and readers are prepared to pay for that just as some people still prefer the cinema over television.”
—Philip Jones, The Guardian Book Clinic, Feb 2018

Yes, print books are still valuable. According to Publishers Weekly, reports from NPD BookScan show print book sales increased by 1.3 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. That’s 695 million real books consumed by readers. PW also reported the biggest increase was from hardcovers, with trade paperback sales pretty much flat versus 2017, with a slight .5 percent decline.

Even a little bit brighter picture were figures from The Association of American Publishers (AAP), with January-November 2018 showing a 6.5 percent increase in hardback sales and a 2 percent increase in trade paperbacks.

Meanwhile the AAP had eBook sales declining by 2.8 percent during the same period.

It seems apparent that there’s no truth to once-popular predictions that we’d all choose eBooks over print books, with print-on-paper fading to only a memory.

Especially if you’re marketing with a book

An author I’m working with calls it the “thud factor.” He’ll use the book we’re writing to market his services. When he hands over an attractive, bound copy to someone, they’ll literally feel the value of what he’s providing.

He explains that seeing that printed book—in particular a hard-cover book—shows up in a tangible way. The thud of a 200-page printed book as it hits the table reflects effort, credibility, and a generous “helping you is my priority” message.

It’s a much different emotional reaction than if he simply said, “Go download my free eBook.”

Consider an audio version too

In reviewing these book sales stats, it’s also interesting that downloads of audio books reported the fastest growth of any book medium, jumping 37.1 percent according to AAP figures. Even libraries offer audio books on loan via apps like Overdrive’s Libby.

To produce your audio book, professional voice talent is the best option. But if you’d rather do it yourself, the proliferation of podcasting has made affordable recording available to everyone. One co-working space near me offers a professional recording studio for $35 an hour. Public or university libraries might be another place to look for cost-effective recording facilities.

Just stay away from physical audio recordings. That’s not how people want to listen, as evidenced by the equally-steep 30 percent decline in physical audio book sales reported by PW for 2018. Smartphones, iPods, and other mobile devices are the choice for listening now.

More on print books from The Guardian

Additional comments from Mr. Jones’ Book Clinic sum things up well:

“The hardback is a mark of quality and a demonstration of intent on behalf of the publisher: it shows booksellers and reviewers that this is a book worth paying attention to. In fact some literary editors will still only review fiction (on first publication) if it’s published in hardback. Similarly, a hardback signifies to authors and agents that this is a book their publisher cares about, so much so that some agents (and authors) will insist upon it.”

I think the same can be said for indie authors too. (Remember that’s you—not the outdated and tarnished “self-published.”) Of course you want to offer ebook sales on Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook sales sites. Digital channels like NetGalley  let you post advanced reading copies for preview distribution as you gather reviews. But you still can’t replace hardcopies for publicity and marketing both you and your book.

Print is also so much easier now. Print on-demand is available from the best publishing sources, making it cost-effective to print small quantities with great quality too. The days of big print runs to get “price breaks” and a garage full of boxed books are over. Any source asking you to buy lots of books up front sees you from a revenue-generating rather than a customer-service perspective.

Print books are still a thing. Include print as you plan and budget your book project.

Are You My Client?

To decide if we’re a good fit to work together, please watch this video.

If you laugh, I’d love to work with you.

If you don’t get the joke, thanks for stopping by. You won’t get what you’re looking for here.

The Best Writers Break the Rules

The best writers break writing rules and stray from the common path.

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The group around the conference table was considering taglines for our new corporate brand. One option in particular was heatedly discussed. I probably shouldn’t disclose the actual line, but it was similar in construction to Apple’s “Think different” tag created in 1997. One member of the group was particularly adamant that we could not use it because it was “grammatically incorrect.”

Ridiculous.

“Think different” also suffered from the same scrutiny, many claiming that different is not an adverb so it should be “Think differently” to be proper. Is “proper” what you want in your writing?

Lawyers are really good at proper writing – dotting every i and crossing every t. They also create mind-numbing text, heavy with clauses, commas, and clutter. I fought little editing battles with corporate lawyers for the last two decades of my corporate career. I wasn’t creating legal documents. I wanted to attract readers and build awareness among investors, employees, and customers.

The tagline example shows what happens when people who think they know a lot about writing get in the way of true writing pros.

Writing is not about rules. It’s about clarity and the sound of the writing. Yes sound. The best writing is lyrical like music, making it flow with a cadence that enhances readability. (Stop yourself now. Legible is not “more correct” than readable.)

The best writing has life. It’s surprising and memorable, not proper or written to please your eighth-grade English teacher.

In fact, I was mistakenly placed into a basic English class in eighth grade. I couldn’t wait to get out of the useless sentence diagramming and spelling exercises. In a few weeks, the class assignment was corrected and I moved back to advanced English. For the rest of middle and high school I was in either advanced or honors English classes. We practiced writing and studied great writers. We never diagrammed sentences.

I’ve made a career out of writing. What does that tell you?

Some writing rules to break

You’ve probably heard the following long-standing, often-repeated “writing rules.” All were either never rules in the first place or should be routinely ignored if it improves your writing.

  • Never end a sentence with a preposition. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style (preferred by publishers) has never prohibited a preposition at the end of a sentence in any of its versions and editions since 1906.
  • Never begin a sentence with a conjunction, like but or and. Don’t overdo it, but this is often a good tool to emphasize an opposing point.
  • Don’t use contractions. Maybe when you’re writing to an international audience. Otherwise, why sound like a robot rather than writing in a way that humans actually speak?
  • No one-sentence paragraphs. This is a great technique for pulling a key point out into the “open” where people are sure to see it, rather than burying it in a longer paragraph.
  • Write in complete sentences only. If it adds emphasis or cadence, please break this rule.

The fundamentals still have their place

This is not to say that you can throw out every writing rule. Musicians can improvise better riffs when they study music theory. Artists can create more moving pieces when they are grounded in the basics of line, form, light, and perspective. The best writers know structure and composition fundamentals so they know where to break away from the rules to make prose instead of text.

Writing a lot helps you get better, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become a great writer. Malcom Gladwell is credited with conceiving the “10,000 hour” rule in his book Outliers. Widely misunderstood is that it doesn’t mean automatic mastery with 10,000 hours of practice. It does not say geniuses are made, not born. Gladwell has clarified that the rule means that it generally takes that long for natural talent to fully manifest.

I was an ice hockey goalie. Though I probably spent 10,000 hours on the ice, it never made me into Martin Brodeur. The point is that the best at anything have more talent to start.

Writing is a rare skill and takes years to acquire. Unless you are sure you’ve got that level of skill, hire a professional to help elevate your messages above the rest.

Surprise your reader

As Chip and Dan Heath found in their studies of ideas and messages, “unexpected” is a key element to engaging your audience. Their bestselling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, explains that the best way to get attention for your message is to break a pattern. That’s just what we’re talking about here. Break a rule and jar your reader from what they expect is coming next.

Arthur Plotnik, author of Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, said it very well:

“When too tightly leashed, writing chokes and loses its vitality.”