Friday, January 21, 2011

The Last Word On... Online Publishing (Book Review & More)

If you combine brilliant artwork with witty writing, you've got a surefire hit, right?  Especially if you cut out the middle man and publish it yourself online.

Well... maybe.

Okay, I confess:  He had me at Hitler.

Many people would argue that the subject of Hitler should be totally off-limits for humor.

But as Tim Sheppard points out in The Last Word On, Hitler's dog did think he was a great guy.  Which shoots to hell the popular theory that all animals are great judges of human character.

He also pokes fun at the psychological effects pets are reputed to have: lowering blood pressure, rendering the mood calm and cheerful.  Imagine, what terrible things might Hitler have done without Blondi keeping him happy?

On cats:
Domestic cats behave like deposed royalty, forced to live among us common peasants but still believing themselves vastly superior.  Whereas dogs typically inhale any foodstuff placed before them, cats regard their menu as if indignant that the wrong vintage of wine were being served with their revolting little tins of chopped kidney and liver.  It is true; if cats were human, they’d be restaurant critics.
The Last Word On is a wonderful collection of cartoons, supplemented by humorous text.  Or is it a collection of illustrated, satiric micro-essays?

What makes this such a strong work is that the author doesn't hold back to be Politically Correct, but challenges all the conventional wisdom that most of us absorb without even thinking about it.  He makes us laugh, even while we sheepishly admit to ourselves that we may have thought like that.

The Last Word On dissects dogs, cats, whales, chickens and microbes.  (Figuratively, not literally, thank goodness.)  It scores the American obsession with sports, from Auto Racing to Golf, not omitting the sacred cows of baseball, football and basketball.

It mocks our obsession with the Boob Tube.
A Chinese emperor once asked Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma, “What is the most sacred truth?”  Bodhidharma replied, “Vast emptiness and nothing sacred about it.”  Bodhidharma must have had the Ultra Deluxe Premium Choice satellite TV package.

On kids and TV:
What do you feed struggling young minds, trying with all their little might to understand reality and cope with the challenging world around them?  How do you nurture impressionable children’s psyches during those critical first years of life?  I know, let’s barrage them with a stream of bizarre animated talking animals, a fantasy world of anthropomorphic puppets, cartoon warrior robots of destruction, anything divorced from reality, anything with a squeaky voice and high strangeness in appearance.  Good heavens, being a child must be like being on a bad acid trip, considering the weirdness we pump into their heads.
On pop culture and music:

A television station which will remain unnamed, but whose name sounds something like “MTV,” was the first all-music channel, and is now the nerve center for the self-styled hip-hop generation.   This station has become a one-stop shopping site for all of your pernicious, gangster-thug cultural needs.  Tune in and you will see what is in my opinion perpetual glorification of violence, misogyny, anarchy, drugs, pornography and racism--not to mention commercials for acne remedies and products that promise minty-fresh breath. Pimply kids watch this station and emulate the vile, depraved, wicked role models they see, because they are led to believe it is cool to be a minty-fresh gangster.
This work is ideal as an online book, since it combines short, snappy writing with eye-catching cartoons.  I've enjoyed reading a few pages at time over my lunch breaks, but I think the market would be slim for selling a long, wordy Faulknerian or Proustian-style novel via computer screen.

Is there a Last Word on gardening, marriage, poetry, shopping?

You knew there would be.  I believe I've met the woman, pictured above.  She also carries a "take no prisoners" attitude towards securing a parking space.

This may not, in fact, be The Last Word; there are plans in the works for a sequel.

Tim Sheppard, the author, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, since I am pig ignorant about the current world of self-and online publishing.

Did this book make you Filthy Rich?  The book more than broke even, if you don’t count the labor.  90% of sales happened in the first few months, then tapered off dramatically.  Taking that as a 'no,' especially as the art is clearly a result of much love, energy, and labor.

How do you get a distribution deal for a book like this?  I did not get into a mainstream distribution deal; it is really difficult to get a real distributor, as they only want “sure things.”  Even if you do get a distribution deal, they will put your book on the shelf for 90 days, then send them back to you (at your expense) if unsold. 
What's it like to self-publish?  I understand in addition to the online version of this book, you opted to have some copies printed, instead of going the POD (Printing on Demand) route.  It is a brutal business.  The home computer revolution made everyone an author.  Reviewers get scores of books per day in the inboxes.  There are scammers at every turn: the thieving bastards who have a monopoly on selling ISBN numbers being among the first you will encounter.  What a racket: they sell you an odorless, tasteless, colorless,weightless number, a product with infinite shelf life and virtually zero cost of sales for $250+.  The last scammer you may encounter is Amazon; they take their pound of flesh with cannibalistic relish.
The vast majority of books lose money.  While it’s wrong to throw wet blankets on aspiring authors, I’d advise folks to consider their efforts a hobby.  They can save money and heartache by POD printing a few copies for their immediate friends and family, with a few extra for promotion—market the title vigorously otherwise, and hope for a miracle.  I did not POD.  I still have a couple of boxes of pre-printed books.

In recap: 
  1. Buy TheLastWordOn.
  2. If you do decide to self-publish, make sure you have a good product.  Your grandma may think it's the most marvelous book ever written, but she also laughs like a hyena when your eight-year-old nephew tells her knock-knock jokes.  Run it by a good feedback group, and if they say it ain't ready - put it aside and work on something else for a little while.
  3. Be prepared, if you decide to go the self-publishing or POD route, to spend at least as much in blood, sweat and tears branding, marketing and promoting, as you did writing your book.
    1. "Waste" the money on a good editor.  Few things are more irritating than reading a friend's self-published book, which you bought even though it was priced at three times what a 'regular' book would have cost, and to be assaulted with three typos and two grammatical errors on page one.
    2. When promoting your book on FaceBook, don't do it every other freakin' day, and when you post, have something new to offer - a quote, a teaser, a photo.  Otherwise you'll be turning Friends into UnFriends, or they be putting your posts on "hide all" status.
What did you think about The Last Word On? 
Do you have a POD or self-publishing story to share?
Comment space below offered absolutely free.
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