Self-Publishing Series: V. Key Steps to Marketing Your Book

24 07 2013

(Last of a five-part series)

Marketing your book effectively will be every bit as challenging as writing it, and you should plan on spending a comparable amount of energy and effort.

For one thing, you face the daunting reality that the rise of self-publishing has brought masses of dreck to the marketplace. Your marketing challenge is to distinguish your quality book from that dreck.

The good news is that the most effective marketing techniques are free or very inexpensive; and conversely those that are expensive, such as paid advertising, aren’t all that effective.

A strong online presence is critical to your book’s success. According to this article in The Atlantic Monthly, a Codex Group survey has found that readers are relying more and more on online media, as well as personal recommendations, to find reading material. With that in mind, here’s a sample of what I’ve found to be the easiest and most productive marketing initiatives:

Take maximum advantage of the free marketing platform that is Amazon. Write a amazon logocompelling description of your book. Here’s an article on how to do that. List your book under all the possible categories and keywords, so search results on those terms will include it. Since good reviews are critical, ask anybody who says they like your book to post an Amazon review. Get your book reviewed by Amazon’s top reviewers and other major reviewers. Here’s an article on how to solicit reviews. Activate the Look Inside feature by uploading a pdf of your book. Create an author page, with a photo, and keep it updated. For further information, here’s my article Marketing on Amazon.

Create a web site for your book. It should include full information about you and your book and where to buy it, including

  • Contact information
  • Bio
  • Sample chapters
  • Tables of contents
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
  • A feedback form and message board for comments, advice, etc.
  • A signup form for audio and/or Skype visits with book clubs. For example, see this signup page.
  • Photos of your book covers
  • Media kit, including news releases and photos
  • Video or audio of talks and interviews
  • Links to articles and reviews both about your book and what you’ve written about other topics
  • News and updates on your topic
  • Links to other useful sites
  • Reading guide to suggested books (Make money from this guide by joining the Amazon Associates program and earning a fee for books sold through your site.)
  • A link to purchase your book
  • A description of other products and services you offer

Your book site can be part of your general author web site, but it needs to be a dedicated page. You can make one web site do multiple duties by redirecting a book’s URLs to its specific page. For example, goes to the page on my web site about that book, goes to my novel, while goes to my home page, which changes as new books are published.

Distribute news releases on your book, and send them to appropriate media. You can produce multiple news releases, including one announcing the book, ones pegged to special dates or events relevant to your book, and ones that pitch feature angles on your book topic that might attract coverage. Post the news releases on your web site, on both the book description page and the media page.

Goodreads logoRegister as an author on the reader sites GoodReads and LibraryThing and offer copies of your book in their giveaway programs.

Post your book on the online galley site NetGalley. It’s not free, but it can be a worthwhile step to get your book noticed by reviewers, bloggers, journalists, booksellers, educators, and the media. If you’ve joined the Independent Book Publishers Association, you can take advantage of their discount listing fee of $350 for six months.

Use Facebook, Twitter, a blog and other social media to highlight your book.Social Networking for Authors  You can post periodic updates on your book’s sales and other events, and articles on your book’s subject, in which you mention your book. The book Social Networking for Authors by Michael Volkin contains a wealth of good ideas. Also, here’s  an article with some good tips on using social media and here are ten social media tips from Guy Kawasaki, author of APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) How to Publish a Book.

In his Forbes article on the new era of publishing, David Vinjamuri quotes author Robert Bidinotto, on the power of social media for authors:

Social media has been the great equalizer of advertising, promotion and marketing.  This is essentially asymmetrical warfare.  No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published–and they don’t care.  They’re interested in an experience that will educate or entertain them. Social Media allow the individual author to become a personality and establish real emotional bonds with his readers. I happen to really like my readers and I deal with them online all the time. By using social media to become a personality to my readers, I have not spent one nickel in paid advertising—and I haven’t had to.

There are, of course, many more steps you can take to market your book. As outlined in part II of this series, you should read the many books, web sites, and discussion groups on self-publishing, some of which are listed in Jacqueline Simonds’ list of books on her Self-Publishers FAQ, to help you decide which steps are best for you.

Here are some other useful sources of marketing advice:

This concludes the self-publishing series. I hope it has been helpful and that my experiences help make your self-publishing adventure a rousing success!

Here are links to other articles in this series:

Self-Publishing Series: IV. Operating the Publishing Machinery

17 07 2013

(Part IV of a five-part series)

The next major step in your self-publishing adventure is to master the machinery by which a finished manuscript becomes an officially published book. Successfully taking this step means that your book will be recognized by the publishing world as a professional work.

As a novice self-publisher, I chose Createspace to produce my print and ebook novel The Rainbow Virus, for its ease of use and ready availability of its books on Amazon, which owns the service. It has also received generally favorable reviews elsewhere. When I checked discussion group commentary on Createspace, I found only rare negative comments, and many positive ones. Also, self-publishing expert Aaron Shepard recommends Createspace for self-publishers just starting out. Although I found Createspace’s instructions easy to follow, for authors looking for more guidance, Chris McMullen’s A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers appears to be the best resource.

Another self-publishing platform worth considering IngramSpark. It’s operated by the book distributor Ingram, which owns LightningSource, and aims to make the LightningSource service more accessible to self-publishers.

I found the Createspace interface to be clear and intuitive, and the service Amazon Createspace logoresponsive. For example, files were processed and proof copies shipped quickly. Edits to data such as book descriptions were also quickly processed. And publication on Amazon was fast. Also, the interface features a smooth pathway to publication of a Kindle ebook.

A caution, however: Createspace is heavily automated, so you should watch for glitches. For one thing, the service may adjust the layout to meet its requirements without telling you, so always order a proof copy to check. For example, when our designer made the gutter margin on The Rainbow Virus a bit too narrow, Createspace overcompensated and shifted the text too far the other way, producing off-center text on the page. Only when my wife Joni noticed this glitch in the proof copy could we correct it with a new layout.

As discussed in the previous post, proofreading at all levels is critical. Even at a final proof level, you will detect typos and higher-level errors in dialog, continuity, and fact that weren’t apparent at earlier stages. Not until the proof stage of my novels did I realize that a character holstered his pistol twice in one scene; that he took off his jacket one moment, only to have it on the next; that Neptune didn’t have a hydrogen ocean; and that I had misnamed an area of San Diego where scenes were set.

BowkerLinkborderA critical step in making the publishing world aware of your book is registering your book with Bowker—the publishing industry’s central provider for bibliographic information, ISBNs and other services. Fortunately, Bowker has created a web site for self-published authors that will guide you through this critical process. Three major pieces of advice:

  • Purchase your own ISBNs from Bowker, rather than using those supplied by a publisher. Owning the ISBNs means you are the publisher of record and retain all rights to your book. Some unscrupulous POD publishers will restrict those rights if you use their ISBN.
  • Enter every bit of metadata possible into Bowker. These are the data about your book that are fed to search engines, libraries, and bookstores—both bricks-and-mortar and online. Besides the expected data, such as title, format, price, etc., you can also enter detailed descriptions of your book and upload the entire manuscript for keywording.
  • Be sure to upload a cover image. Your listing will look amateurish without one.

Finally, if you publish a print book, you’ll want to register your book with the Library of Congress and send them copies.

Now that you’re published, your marketing effort—which you should have begun planning when you began writing—will shift into high gear. The final post in this series will cover some key marketing steps.

Here are links to the other articles in this series:

Self-Publishing Series: III. Choosing How to Self-Publish

10 07 2013

(Part III of a five-part series)

Once you’ve done your homework and committed to self-publish, you’ll next want to decide the level of investment in time and money you’re willing to make. Your alternatives range from zero-cost—creating a Kindle and Smashwords ebook yourself—to expensive professional production of a print and ebook.

In choosing how to self-publish, recall the point from part I of this series that “You don’t make money from a book; you make money because of a book.” If you keep in mind what financial benefits—direct and indirect—you expect from the book, it will help greatly in choosing whether to spend nothing, a little, or a lot on publishing.

The free ebook

Let’s start with zero-cost self-publishing; that is, using the built-in Kindle and Smashwords tools to produce your own cover and format your own ebook.MyeCoverMaker For example, here’s the cover creator offered by Kindle; and the ebook Do It Yourself: Book Covers is a useful guide to producing both print and ebook covers using the GIMP image editing program. Also, the web site Fiverr is an inexpensive source of ebook covers. Here’s a useful blog post on how to design your own ebook cover using MyEcoverMaker. (Note that the blog post has the incorrect name and link.)

To get a good overview of the Kindle publishing process, read author Paul Jun’s The Ultimate Guide to Publishing Your eBook on Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Platform.

While the money cost of do-it-yourself cover and interior design is little or nothing, you’ll expend considerable time to do it right. You have to be willing to learn the tools, and to spend the necessary time designing the cover and doing the layout. And unless you are a highly adept designer, it’s almost certain the result will not be as good as having a professional do the work. I could never have achieved the quality look for my novel’s ebook that my professional formatter did.

Nevertheless, there is a place for do-it-yourself ebooks. If you are testing your ideas and your writing with a limited, friendly audience, a do-it-yourself approach can be appropriate. Also, if you don’t really expect much of a direct or indirect payback from your book, it makes more sense to do it yourself. However, in settling for a homemade product, remember that your Kindle and Smashwords ebook will be publicly available, and a poorly produced ebook can damage your brand.

The professionally designed ebook

By spending in the hundreds of dollars, you can have your ebook professionally done, with a quality cover and layout. A professional-quality ebook is preferable if you want to preserve your brand, and you expect some benefit from your ebook. For example, it’s entirely possible to make money from an ebook, with no print counterpart.

Ebooks are definitely on the rise, given their affordability, convenience, and instantaneous universal availability. In 2011, Amazon reported it was selling more ebooks than print books, and this upward trend will continue. As author Warren Adler puts it in a Huffington Post article “. . . despite the joyful optimism of print book lovers, there can be no denying the impact of the digital reader, whether in the form of a feature or app on a tablet, cell phone, desktop or whatever device the future will bring. Like it or not, the printed book as an economic model is in the process of unraveling.”

However, this unraveling is by no means complete. Despite increasing ebook sales, print books remain important, both in market terms and in terms of an author’s image. As self-publishing guru Dan Poynter says, “Some writers plan to publish digitally only—to save money. This is a mistake. If you publish an ebook, you are perceived as a writer. If you publish a [paper book], you are regarded as an author. Paper books are retained; files disappear in a click.”

Indeed, a recent reader survey by the publisher O’Reilly found that print books are still the major format. The survey of 500 readers found that 40 percent still buy print books, while 26 percent buy ebooks, and 37 percent buy both.

The do-it-yourself print book

The next point along the self-publishing spectrum is producing a do-it-Createspace logoyourself print book, along with your ebook. As with do-it-yourself ebooks, the advantage is that  for no significant publishing fee you can produce a print book through the print on demand companies Createspace, Lightning Source, or through Ingram’s new self-publishing service IngramSpark. Ingram is the largest wholesaler in North America and owner of LightningSource, and IngramSpark is aimed at giving self-publishers an easier route to using LightningSource.

However, as with do-it-yourself ebooks, the disadvantage is that your print book will not present the same quality as a professionally produced book. Indeed, Guy Kawasaki, author of APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) How to Publish a Book  in this article on mistakes self-publishers make lists a key error as designing your own cover. That said, if you are determined to create your own book cover, the ebook Do It Yourself: Book Covers, mentioned above, looks to be a good guide.

In my opinion, it’s also a mistake to try to design and lay out your own interior. Unless you are either a professional designer, or willing to learn professional-level book design, your layout will look amateurish.  This article by book designer Michele DeFilippo lays out the advantages of professional design, and this article compares amateur and professionally designed interiors. Also, see this article on the standards for book typography,, which illustrates the complexity of producing a truly professional-looking book. As the author Dave Bricker, says, “Like quality writing, professional typography is crafted line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page, and chapter-by-chapter; there are no shortcuts.” And as Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self Publishing, so pithily puts it, “He who designs his own cover or interior has a fool for a designer.”

The professional print book/ebook

So, for a cost in the thousands of dollars, you can commission a professional print and ebook cover and interior design and layout. Such a considerable investment makes sense if you plan to publish more than one novel, or if the market for your nonfiction book is significant. And, it makes sense if your book will be a significant part of your professional brand. This article by author services provider Miral Sattar, “The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book,” illustrates the range of potential costs for a professionally published book. And while it is generally accurate, you should read the comments following the article to get a sense of the sometimes contentious issues involved in pricing publishing services.

Don’t try to save money by going to a so-called “print-on-demand publisher.” They typically promise that for only hundreds of dollars, youFine print cover can self-publish a quality book. However, in book design, as with just about everything else, you get what you pay for. Such books are more likely to look amateurish, in both their covers and their interiors. Many of these publishers — for example, Arbor Books, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and PublishAmerica — are notorious for producing lower-quality books and/or gouging authors. All of them make their money charging authors, rather than selling books. True, some are quite adequate if you plan to publish a book for family and friends. However in any case, before you get into bed with any of these companies, read The Fine Print of Self Publishing, which offers an independent assessment of the publishers and their costs. The book also includes an excellent primer on self-publishing. To get a sense of their tactics, see this blog post on the class action lawsuit against Author Solutions, the parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and many other POD publishers.

There are, however, many reputable design firms that can produce a quality product. I used 1106Design to design the cover and interior layout and do the ebook formatting for my novels. Here’s the Independent Book Publishers Association list of book designers. and a list of recommended designers by self-publishing guru Dan Poynter.

For print-on-demand production, I’ve used both Lightning Source and Createspace. The former is less author-friendly and requires that you be listed as a publisher, rather than an author. Thus, it provides little hand-holding. In contrast I found Createspace to be a responsive, author-friendly publisher that automatically lists my books on Amazon, which owns it. While publishing on Createspace is free if you provide your cover and layout, they also sell design and other services. However, in his book Levine ranks Createspace as only “pretty good,” while others, such as BookLocker and Infinity Publishing are listed as “outstanding.”Createspace’s services were also criticized on the Yahoo self-publishing group as being unresponsive because—probably like those of other POD publishers—they are outsourced to anonymous designers, not allowing the author the opportunity to choose his/her own designer, or to work with the designer directly.

Editing and proofing

Regardless of how you self-publish, you should strive to make your copy as perfect as it can possibly be. This means quality copy-editing and obsessive proofreading over and over and over until you are totally sick of looking at your book. Then proof it again. Even the most trivial errors damage the credibility of your non-fiction book, and for novels pull readers right out of the story you’re trying to tell.  One such thorough editing and proofing approach is detailed in this blog post by author K.M. Weiland.

The Rainbow VirusHaving a professional proofreader doesn’t let you off the hook. For my novels, our proofreader found a great many errors that we missed. But we found many errors that she missed. And the proofing needs to be done over and over. We typically go through about nine drafts of each novel, and we still catch nagging errors even in the last proof. The classic case was my discovery of the backwards phrase “she drew lungs into her air,” in a late proof of The Rainbow Virus. Also, even a professional copy editor may miss higher-level conceptual or structural errors in your book.

It’s also important to proofread all the way from the draft to the printed proof copy. We tried to submit the most perfect Word file possible to the designer. Even then, we found errors in the layout and still more in the proof copy. New errors just seemed to jump out at each step along the way. And they were high-level errors. As late as the proof copy, we found dialog that didn’t make sense and errors of logic and continuity that we hadn’t seen before.

So, now that you’ve decided how to publish, your next challenge will be mastering the machinery that turns your book from manuscript into an officially published book. That seemingly daunting process is the subject of the next installment.

Here are links to the other articles in this series:

Self-Publishing Series: II. Preparing Yourself to Self-Publish

3 07 2013

(Part II of a five-part series)

Unless you’re willing to do an enormous amount of homework and preparation to learn the process and business of self-publishing, you’ll waste your time and money. You’ll also likely damage your brand as an author.

As Marion Gropen, a leading expert on independent publishing, puts it:

One consistent theme throughout my career has been that there are two types of new authors/publishers. The first looks at our business, sees skilled professionals working hard, realizes that there is complexity and does his or her homework. He or she learns the ropes, and the best ways to get from barebones basics to the goalposts. . .

The OTHER type of newbie decides that he/she already knows all that is necessary. After all, this is a very simple task, and if it’s not, well that’s because the dinosaurs at the legacy publishers don’t know how to do things in the new world. . .

The first type is frequently successful. The second usually spends a ton of money and time and gets almost nothing for it. And the old hands who tried to help watch in sadness. . . .

Please, be the first type, and not the second. I’m tired of breaking my heart watching lemmings run off of cliffs.

(Here’s Gropen’s hard-nosed essay on whether you should self-publish.)

Also read author James Altucher’s excellent, insightful (and funny!) post  21 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing 2.0.

So, this post will aim at helping you prepare to self-publish and to face theComplete Guide to Self-Publishing hard realities of the challenge—and the adventure—you’re about to undertake. It will be a relatively short post, recommending the resources I used in my preparation. If you do your homework right, exploring the resources listed below, you’ll end up with a shelf full of books, subscriptions to a number of e-mail lists and much more insight into publishing.

Fortunately, others have done much of the work for me. For example, here is publisher Jacqueline Simonds’ excellent Self-Publisher’s FAQ  and list of books. And here is novelist August Wainwright’s 50 Best Sites for Indie and Self-Published Authors. I emphatically recommend you spend a great deal of time exploring the recommended books, discussion groups, web sites, and other resources on self-publishing. Of these many resources, here are a few that I’ve found particularly helpful:

Finally, there are the 16 articles I’ve written for the Marketing & Publishing Resource on the web site of the National Association of Science Writers. These cover just about all I’ve learned about self-publishing.

Here are links to the other articles in this series:

Self-Publishing Series: I. Making the Decision

26 06 2013

Self-publishing is becoming an ever more viable option for authors, given the erosion of commercial publishing, economic print-on-demand technologies, and the marketing power of Amazon and other online bookstores.

Since I’m both a self-published and commercially published author, I thought it would be helpful to share my experience, as well as the resources I’ve found useful.

Here are links to the other articles in the series:

As to my experience, my most recent commercially published book is Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work (Oxford 2010). As an initial experiment in self-publishing, my wife Joni and IExplaining Research produced a supplementary booklet Working with Public Information Officers.

Now we’re in the process of self-publishing my novels: The Rainbow Virus, Wormholes,  Solomon’s Freedom, and The Cerulean’s Secret.

Commercial publishing: advantages and frustrations

I’ve had positive and negative experiences with both commercial and self-publishing, and I hope those experiences will help you make the decision. First, my commercial publishing experience:

Working with Oxford was generally a positive experience. The publisher provided excellent manuscript editing, visibility, and the imprimatur and distribution of a prestigious academic publisher.

But there was a downside, experiences that seem to be par for the course in commercial publishing these days. First, came the frustrating contract negotiations, in which their initial contract gave them everything, including the kitchen sink. Perhaps most outrageous was a clause in which they reserved the right to hire another writer—with the fee deducted from my royalties—to do another edition if they wanted one and I didn’t.

The royalties were also terrible; Oxford has adopted a policy now common among publishers to pay royalties on net sales rather than gross sales, significantly reducing royalties. Net royalties are paid based on publishers’ income after deducting production costs; gross royalties are higher because they are based on the retail price. I had to hire a lawyer to negotiate more reasonable terms, although the advance and royalties remained very low.

Perhaps more of a negative for me was the lack of editorial control—which is standard and understandable, given that the publisher is taking the financial risk. This control resulted in a less attractive book. For example, Oxford chose a boring “academic” cover design, even though I provided them with an excellent, dynamic alternative, designed by a professional book cover designer. And, Oxford decided the book needed to be cut by 10,000 words, which meant cutting out a useful section on working with public information officers. Finally, I was disappointed in the index, which was done by an indexer the publisher recommended, but paid for by me. I ended up having to considerably revise that index.

My ultimate decision to self-publish also reflected the fact that I had to do the vast majority of marketing myself, which is also standard in publishing today. And, since Joni and I already knew how to manage the other major component, the editorial process, why not self-publish? What’s more, given the sad economic state of commercial publishing, particularly fiction, the reality was that my novels would likely not see the light of day unless I self-published them.

What finally tipped the balance in favor of self-publishing my novels was my frustrating experience with the unnamed publisher to whom I submitted The Cerulean’s Secret. While the editors responded positively to the book, it took years to go through the frustrating process of submitting initial chapters, more chapters, the full manuscript, and waiting a year for any further response. Finally, although they had indicated that the novel had been recommended for publication, they simply stopped responding to my queries.  This stunningly slow, even unprofessional,  process may well be standard and familiar to veteran authors. However, it exhausted my patience.

A gratifying self-publishing experiment

Working with Public Information OfficersAlso, by this time, my experiment in self-publishing Working with Public Information Officers had shown me how easy it was. I used LightningSource, which is the largest print-on-demand producer. Not only did I have complete editorial and production control, the economics worked well. I priced the booklet at $10, gave Amazon a 20 percent discount, and thus made $8 per copy. Since the booklet’s publication, I’ve received a steady but very small income. However, I didn’t mean for the experiment to make money. I purposely “sabotaged” print sales, in that I posted the entire content online, because I wanted people to have access to the text. For my novels, however, I’ve used CreateSpace for reasons I’ll cover in the post, Operating the Publishing Machinery.

I’m not totally soured on commercial publishing. They still offer advantages of broad distribution and the imprimatur of a commercial publisher.

However, whether self- or commercially publishing, authors must face the hard financial reality that you will not likely make significant income, even with a bestseller. For example, a Nielsen Bookscan study of sales of 1,200,000 books found that only 2.1 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. The vast majority, 79 percent, sold less than 99 copies. Even a “bestseller” won’t bring riches, as described in this article by novelist Patrick Wensink.

To cite a widely quoted maxim in publishing: you won’t make money from a book; you’ll make money because of a book. That is, think of your book as a means of enhancing your brand as a writer/expert. Nonfiction books can build your reputation, lead to writing assignments, and give the opportunity to make money teaching workshops in your subject. I’ve made much more money from my communication workshops for scientists than I have from Explaining Research.

And for novels, building a brand means publishing multiple novels and working to create a following such that readers of one novel will buy others.

A self-publishing trend

My decision to self-publish is very much in line with the times. For example, Guy Kawasaki author of APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) How to Publish a Book—has listed these “Top Ten Reasons to Self-publish Your Book.”

Self-publishing is also very much the wave of the future, contends David Vinjamuri in his overview of the publishing industry, “Publishing is Broken, We’re Drowning in Indie Books—And That’s a Good Thing.” Vinjamuri predicts that “. . . mainstream authors who don’t reach the blockbuster sales of Brad Thor or Sue Grafton—but have an established audience—will choose the favorable economics of Indie publishing.” He also points out that “authors like Edgar-winning mystery author Lawrence Block and Margaret Muir have already embraced indie publishing for the obvious economic benefits.  There are also many authors who started as self-publishers and are making a solid living in Indie-land.”

Here are other recent articles on the subject:

However, there are major cautions that should be added to these writers’ upbeat views of self-publishing: In your marketing, you will be trying to distinguish your book from masses of self-published dreck and battling the still-questionable image of self-published authors—although some of this may be sour grapes, as pointed out by Debra Holland in this blog post.

The decision and the process are complex; and I hope this series helps you to decide whether to self-publish, and if you do, to successfully navigate those complexities.

Using Branding to Advance Your Career

12 01 2013

To most researchers, “branding” is a seemingly crass marketing process used to sell products from candy bars to computers. Scientists may also be vaguely aware that their institutions spend considerable time and effort developing and protecting their brands.

But whether scientists know it or not, they are “branded” as well, and sinceWin Without Competing cover branding is fundamentally a communication strategy, it’s quite central to the topic of this blog.

In this post, I asked branding expert Dr. Arlene Barro, a behavioral educational psychologist, to explain branding as it relates to scientists and their careers. Her answers also offer insight for journalists and public information officers.

(Of course branding is just one aspect of career management. Scientists need to develop an array of communication and other skills to succeed, and the best source of information is Science magazine’s Science Careers web site) .

“Can you imagine a world without brands?” asks Barro, declaring that unless professionals strategically think about their brands, they are presenting themselves as anonymous without even knowing it.

“First of all, if you don’t understand that you have a brand, you can’t sell it,” she says. “And secondly, if you don’t understand what that brand is, you can’t sell it.”

Barro’s insights are particularly cogent because she has an academic as well as business background. She holds a PhD in education with distinction from UCLA for her doctoral dissertation on creativity. She has served as a visiting professor in the medical education department at Ben Gurion University in Israel; a dean at the medical school of the State University of New York at Stony Brook; and as a professor at Thomas Jefferson University’s medical school in Philadelphia.

At the National Cancer Institute, she administered a $60 million public and professional education program, founded and directed the NCI’s first educational research and evaluation branch, and envisioned and directed a first-of-its-kind national program to educate physicians and other health professionals about disease prevention, with a focus on cancer.

As creator of the Right Fit Method for career success and management, she is now a branding and hiring expert—heading Barro Global Search, Inc.—who works with high-level executives and employers. The Right Fit Method is the focus of her book WIN Without Competing!, nominated for a business book award, which mentors job seekers on how to present themselves as the One Right Fit to employers.

To motivate job seekers to recognize the importance of their brand and whether it’s effective in their job search, she developed the app iBrandU4Hire: Rate Your Brand Zero to Hire.

How do you define branding in the context of your work with business professionals, and how might that definition apply to scientists?

Before defining “branding’” I think that it is important to recognize that the job search arena has changed dramatically over the last five years. The economic downturn, coupled with the strong focus on social networking and online resume or curriculum vitae submissions has created a significant need for branding. In order for employers to find you, your online submissions must have a distinct, intriguing, and recognizable brand. Employers must grasp your brand in a flash. You must differentiate yourself from others who do what you do. Whether you’re a business professional or a scientist, you face the same challenge. How can you meet that challenge?

Here are my five “branding commandments”:

  • Recognize that you have a brand, even if articulating that brand is not easy for you to do.
  • Broadcast your brand to succeed in your job search.
  • Pitch your brand by phone before submitting your resume or curriculum vitae online.
  • Avoid blasting your resume from Burbank to Bombay.
  • Overcome and eliminate objections and distractions to your candidacy, which appear on your resume and curriculum vitae.

Your brand has two sides like a coin: the written script (resume or curriculum vitae) and the verbal broadcast (interview). And you must know how to brand both sides. Do not assume that the usual professionally prepared resumes or curricula vitae will include your brand. Resumes and curricula vitae are no longer just factual representations of your career history. They must be carefully crafted to communicate your brand to convince the employer to hire you.

As for the interview, you must carefully orchestrate the encounter to demonstrate that you are the right fit for the job. The goal is to stop the employer from interviewing other candidates after they have interviewed you.

Is branding just a process undertaken during a job search, or does it have broader applications?

Branding must be used for all aspects of your career advancement. Once you capture the right job, you must reinforce your brand to advance. Depending on what that specific career goal is will determine the communication strategies that you must implement. Of primary importance is engaging the right people in conversation. This may sound obvious, simple and easy. It’s not. The art of conversation has declined. Why should you chat when you can email or text? In fact, many job seekers perform poorly at interviews because they cannot carry on a conversation to convince employers to hire them.

To advance your career, you must artfully communicate to set the stage for your promotion. Knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it could make the difference between getting a promotion or not. While you’re communicating, assess the extent to which your likeability factor is moving up. Don’t underestimate the impact of likeability on achieving that promotion. It could tip the scale from “no” to “yes.”

Why is branding necessary for all professionals including scientists to advance their careers?

You cannot assume that “the world” comprehends the significance of your accomplishments, appreciates your uniqueness, and values your positive impact on others. It is your responsibility to broadcast your brand.

I know that many scientists recoil at the thought of branding. They want and assume that their research will speak for them, and of course bragging and boasting are unacceptable.

I mentor a wide array of high-level executives. I have observed that certain professions appear to have an unwritten code of modesty. However, to advance in our society you must consistently and routinely reinforce your brand. I created the following effective protocol to do this:

As often as seems appropriate, perhaps semi-annually or quarterly, write a report summarizing your efforts and achievements. The frequency depends on the nature of what you do. Remember you will need to shed the cloak of modesty while you are writing these reports.

Be sure that your reports fit your readers, which should include your supervisor and others who evaluate your performance. To do that, you need to understand what they expect from you and what concerns they may have about you.

I recommend that you present each report in person, if that is feasible. This approach gives you the opportunity to discuss your efforts and achievements, as well as to obtain feedback. You will be amazed what you can learn while broadcasting your brand. You might even be asked to assume a new responsibility!

To encourage you to stand out to succeed, I want to share the story of my meeting with Jonas Salk, taken from chapter II of my book, “Make No Assumptions: Open Those Doors.”

As head of the NCI’s education program, my colleagues and I had sought his assistance. They had mailed several letters to the renowned researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, but hadn’t yet received a reply.

As I wrote in the book, “While I was attending a professional meeting in nearby San Diego, I decided to attempt a different strategy. Although I understood that directly telephoning his office to ask for an appointment was a bit forward, it also seemed worth the risk—I couldn’t fail to reach Dr. Salk any more completely than my colleagues already had, after all. And because I refused to assume that I couldn’t make an appointment with Jonas Salk by phone, I tried—and succeeded. Dr. Salk’s assistant kindly listened to my request, then scheduled my appointment. A few days later, Dr. Salk graciously met with me for more than an hour.

“At one point during our time together, Dr. Salk suddenly and without a word of explanation left the room. Was the meeting over? Should I leave? I wondered. But I opted instead to make no assumptions about what his disappearance meant and simply waited to see what would happen next. After several minutes, he returned with a number of documents cradled in his arm, publications authored by him that he hoped would assist and encourage us in our research program.

“As I departed, he escorted me to the door and blew me a kiss goodbye. How charming he was! Back in Washington, my colleagues were astounded by my chutzpah and delighted by my success—an outcome I simply never assumed I couldn’t accomplish.”

From a branding perspective, how should scientists navigate their careers to assume different functions such as: manage a large laboratory, become a corporate executive, or independent consultant?

Scientist can assume many functions during the course of their careers. Each new function may require learning additional skills. For example, if you are interested in pursuing management you want to be sure that this function is the right fit for you. To do that, think about the responsibilities associated with management such as interacting with a wide array of people. If management is the right fit, you should gradually build up your management experience and skills. Then, craft your resume or curriculum vitae to emphasize the function that you are pursuing. Be sure to create a distinct, intriguing, and recognizable brand to highlight that function. The goal is to clearly differentiate yourself from others who are seeking the same position. Do not expect the employer to figure out your brand for you. They must visualize your brand instantly! It is up to you to set the stage for them to do that both on your resume and curriculum vitae, and at your in-person interview.

 Describe the mechanics of the branding strategy process that you go through with corporate clients. For example, what is a “branding package?”

I think that it is important to understand how my branding package evolved. I own a retained executive search firm. I present one Right Fit candidate to my client-employer and close the search. This has worked well. Notably, using my Right Fit Method I made forty placements with Tom Lombardo, the Founding Editor-in-Chief of WebMD. Lombardo wrote the foreword to my book, WIN Without Competing!, explaining the impact of my Right Fit Method on WebMD.

After my book was published, I received many requests, including those from scientists, asking me to mentor them on how to master my Right Fit Method. Recognizing what employers look for from a branding perspective, I developed my signature branding package which I create in concert with my executive clients.

The branding package I’ve developed, which works with scientists as well as business executives, consists of

  • Concentrating on figuring out what your next career step should be, before discussing your brand.
  • Creating a written brand and developing key points to articulate your brand during interviews.
  • Crafting your resume or curriculum vitae or both to support your brand.
  • Capturing the employer’s attention to focus on your brand, using my unique strategies to overcome distractions and objections.
  • Convincing the employer to hire you on the first in-person interview.

You can use the branding package for many purposes including presenting yourself for a position at your current institution or to a new employer, as well as for other career advancement goals. To enhance my branding program, I developed resources for my clients, which include my book, radio show and newsletter.

Branding is a lifelong process, which should be incorporated throughout your career. You can even turn a wrong fit career situation into a right fit, or prevent a wrong fit if you know how to manage your brand.

Many mentees say that my mentoring has transformed them. Yes, they are different. I showed them how to change, but they changed their own behavior and achieved the career success that I knew that they could, either in industry or academia. You can, too!

To contact Barro, email or call (310) 443-4277. Her company is on the Westside of Los Angeles adjoining UCLA.

Presidential Politics Neglecting Science: Seeing a Silver Lining

14 10 2012

As the presidential candidates and their surrogates pound away at each other in the final weeks of the campaign, science is almost never mentioned. The candidates only rarely cover such critical issues as global warming and biomedical research funding, aside from the highly commendable effort by Science Debate 2012 to elicit answers from the candidates to key science-related questions (must reading for any voter).  This Science article contains a good analysis of the candidates’ positions (subscription required).

While many see this neglect as something of a dark cloud looming over science—a view with which I certainly agree—I also see a silver lining that should be taken into account, and in fact taken advantage of.

Obviously, the candidates don’t spend much time talking about science and technology because there’s more vote-getting mileage in haranguing each other about the economy, health care and slips-of-their-silver-tongues.

But another major reason for their relative silence on science is that science and technology constitute Mom-and-apple-pie issues. The public likes and respects science and scientists. As NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators has consistently shown, the public strongly supports scientific research and has confidence in the scientific leadership. And public polls, such as this Harris Poll and this one consistently rank scientists as among the most prestigious and trusted professionals. So, scientists and science supporters shouldn’t worry so much about the paucity of science discussion by the candidates during the election.

But we should worry very very deeply about what happens to science budgets and science-related issues after the election. For example, this report from the AAAS highlights the damage that sequestration could do to R&D budgets.

After the election is the time to take advantage of the silver lining—the public’s support and respect  for science and scientists—to launch a concerted campaign not only to support science and technology budgets, but to advocate for rational science policy on such critical issues as global warming.

Fortunately, there is a legion of science advocacy groups that can help any scientist willing to invest in such a communication effort. (See this list from the Explaining Research references and resources.)

Scientists can also educate themselves about the history and nature of the political neglect of science by reading Shawn Lawrence Otto’s articulate and compelling book Fool me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America (Rodale, 2011). Otto is co-founder and CEO of Science Debate.

Otto argues persuasively that scientists must see themselves as a force for political good:

Wishing to sidestep the painful moral and ethical parsing that their discoveries sometimes compel, many scientists today see their role to be the creation of knowledge and believe they should leave the moral, ethical, and political implications to others to sort out. But the practice of science itself cannot possibly be apolitical because it takes nothing on faith.

Otto declares that because of science’s relentless reliance on experiment and data, “science is inherently antiauthoritarian and a great equalizer of political power.”

Certainly, scientists would prefer to spend their time doing research, which is more fun than testifying before congressional committees or buttonholing legislators. But choosing not to invest time in advocacy means yielding the political arena to what New York Times reporter Timothy Egan has dubbed The Crackpot Caucus. As Egan so pithily puts it

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

And this ignorance is not just evident in a general sampling of  legislators, but in the members of the House Science Committee itself, as detailed in this Wired Science article by Brandon Keim, “Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee.” Writes Keim of Akin,

. . . a man who, to put it gently, ignores what science tells us about how babies are made, helps shape the future of science in America. It would be shocking, but for the fact that many of the committee’s GOP members have spent the last several years displaying comparable contempt for climate science.

Ironically, scientists have a far greater level of public support and respect than does  the Congress that decides the fate of their research budget. Not to use that “silver lining” to its fullest extent risks damaging not only scientific careers and scientific research, but the very economic health and intellectual vitality of the nation.

The Hummingbird

21 07 2012

Sometimes we writers need to provide a respite from our all-too-tumultuous, sometimes-tragic world. In a departure from this blog’s usual topic, here’s a little story from the mountains of North Carolina:

I first saw the hummingbird as I was moving furniture on the screened porch. He was a bedraggled clump of feathers no larger than a cotton ball, slumped on the floor, wings spread. He had clearly been trapped in the porch after having flown in the open door, and had worn himself out flying against the screen. I felt responsible because the day before, I’d left the door open while cleaning. It was a sad irony that the little bird had flown thousands of miles from Central America on his migration, only to die on a screened porch in North Carolina.

Since I thought he was dead, I scooped him up to carry him outside. But somehow he didn’t feel dead in my hand. He moved slightly, and began to give out occasional faint cheeps. He was still alive! But he was limp, and his feathers were tattered from thrashing against the screen. I also knew he was dying because during summer hummingbirds only store enough energy to survive overnight, and this one had likely been in the porch for much longer, wearing himself out futilely trying to escape.

I thought he might have a chance to survive if I set him on a feeder. So I brought him upstairs and tried to position him with his claws gripping a perch and his beak inserted into the plastic flower. So all he had to do was extend his tongue to feed. It wasn’t easy getting him positioned because he weighed almost nothing and was so tiny. I dropped him several times, and as he hit the floor, I hoped I hadn’t injured him further.

I finally maneuvered him into a stable position and left him to go inside and get the camera. But when I looked through the window, I saw that he had somehow dislodged himself and was hanging upside down from the perch, clinging to it with a single claw. I repositioned him several times, only to see him work loose, but still hang on to the perch, literally for dear life. I had to do something else.

He needed to be in a position to feed without having to grip a perch. So I placed him on the porch railing and found a pink milk bottle top, filled it with nectar, and held it against his beak. Maybe the pink color would induce him to feed. Then, to give him more elevation, I placed him on a jar top so he could feed downward at a natural angle.

All the time, I was buzzed by the cloud of dozens of impatient hummingbirds who come to the feeders. One even swooped down to investigate the bottle top, hovering by my hand as I tried to get the little hummingbird to feed. Bees and wasps also buzzed me, but I held my ground. I realized my other hand was cramping because I was unconsciously gripping the porch post so hard.

The hummingbird still didn’t respond. His breathing was indiscernible, and only an occasional slight movement told me he was still alive. I persisted, keeping his beak in contact with the nectar. Then after fifteen minutes or so, he opened his beak slightly. He’d tasted the nectar! I waited, keeping his beak in the liquid. He began to open his beak more often.

Then I saw a subtle telltale movement in the nectar. He’d begun to flick out a tiny translucent tongue slimmer than a thread. Over the next minutes, his feeding grew more frequent, the tongue extending farther into the nectar. I could tell his breathing was growing stronger, because the iridescent green feathers on his back began to rapidly rise and fall. He moved his head slightly, another sign he was reviving. Since he was gaining strength, I took the chance to shoot a photo, holding the camera in one hand and the bottle cap in the other.

I continued to feed him, determined to stay until he either revived enough to test his wings, or finally died. I bent down to see whether his eyes were open, but they remained closed. Maybe he had been too far gone after all. The bottle cap needed more nectar, so I turned away to get the nectar jar.

And whoosh! He was gone! I caught only a glimpse of a feathered streak sailing away into the distance.

Multimedia E-books: Immersive or Subversive?

15 04 2012

It’s a troubling, even agonizing, question: How will authors who are crafters of text cope with the new era of multimedia e-books? For me, three recent articles brought that question into greater focus:

Knapp’s and Wattercutter’s articles cover how publishers are aggressively launching e-books as multimedia apps. Knapp cites three as exemplars of the features of multimedia e-books:

  • NAL’s “amplified” edition of Atlas Shrugged, which besides text Atlas Shrugged screenshotcontains video and audio of Rand, personal letters, original manuscript pages and notes, an illustrated timeline of author’s life and works, and an interactive quiz. The e-book also allows readers to share passages with others.
  • The narrated and interactive children’s book The Gift
  • The “novel” Chopsticks, which is the most non-linear of the three. It’s not a narrative story, but a collection of newspaper clippings, songs, and other paraphernalia that together paint a picture of a teenaged pianist and the boy next door.

A fourth example, The World of Richelle Mead, is not even a book, but a “free community powered, enhanced e-reading experience.” It’s more of a social media platform by which readers can buy the author’s books and interact with the author and each other.

Knapp quotes producers and authors both pro and con on the value of such e-books. For example, he quotes multimedia e-book producer Ian Karr as saying “Just as there can be stream of consciousness in writing, there can be a ‘stream of literacy’ in reading, where reading one thing lights the fire to start something new. The bottom line is just providing that richer experience.”

On the other hand, author Jay Bell declares “The more I think about it though, the more these ‘enhancements’ are probably too intrusive and will potentially get in the way of the story.”

And multimedia e-book author Andrea J. Buchanan declares in Knapp’s article “First and foremost, I’m a reader . . . So I want an immersive experience. As a writer, I was really conscious of respecting that. I didn’t want to put stuff in there because I could—I wanted to support and enhance the story.”

ChopsticksIn the most radical view of e-books, Wattercutter quotes e-book publisher Panio Gianopoulos as envisioning a far more social experience. Writes Wattercutter,

For instance, secret chapters could be unlocked as a person’s friends read a book. [Gianopoulos] foresees readers using a reddit-like model to up-vote characters or storylines they enjoy, or publishers forming partnerships with Foursquare that could reveal clues to readers who check in at certain locations. “Multimedia is more than a tie-in—done right it becomes a new kind of product entirely, a hybrid of book and film, or Facebook page and TV show, or something no one else has even thought of yet. . .

However, in a powerful argument for the preeminent value of text, Paul’s New York Times article reveals why unadorned prose is such a powerful medium. She reports studies of the effects of reading on brain activity, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of readers’ brains. The researchers found that reading a text narrative activates not only the language regions of the brain. It also activates sensory-processing regions associated with the description being read. For example, reading descriptions of odors activates the olfactory cortex; and descriptions of textures activates the region that processes touch sensation. Similarly, descriptions of motion or activity stimulate the motor cortex that processes movements such as grasping and running.

Paul also cites fMRI studies showing that the “reading brain” treats scenes of characters interacting as if the reader was experiencing those interactions.

To me, these findings strongly suggest that integrating video, audio and interaction into e-books may not be immersive—keeping the reader engaged in a story. Rather, they might be subversive—distracting readers from the rich internal world that prose can construct within the reader’s mind.

I contend that prose has an “idea density” that video and audio do not. I also believe that prose has an “emotional density” that can be more deeply affecting than that of visual media. My ten-year-old granddaughter’s deep love of reading offers an excellent example of the lure of prose. She becomes so engrossed in text that she reads books while walking and must be guided to avoid lampposts and fellow pedestrians. When I watch her read, I see a young mind totally immersed in the realm of the written word. E-books’ interactivity, sound tracks, and video, it seems to me, would distract from that engagement.

I also worry that interactive children’s books such as The Gift will compromise teaching The Giftchildren to love reading. The interactive process might distract from the warm, intimate environment created when a parent (or grandparent!) reads to a child—an environment that will form a deep-seated enjoyment of reading.

I’m not arguing that multimedia e-books have no place in publishing. The added features of the amplified Atlas Shrugged do not intrude on the prose and offer new pathways for exploring the book’s history. And clearly, video and animation could enhance how-to books and textbooks.

But to repeat the question raised at the beginning of this post, how should authors cope with the issue, some would say specter, of multimedia e-books?

It’s an immediate issue for me, because I’m involved with both fiction and non-fiction projects. One of my science fiction novels is now under consideration by a commercial publisher. And I’m co-authoring a non-fiction book—tentatively titled Mysterious Baby—with my daughter, emergency room pediatrician Dr. Wendy Hunter, on the exotic physiology of infants.

So as a fiction author, should I offer publishers music and sound effects to accompany my book, as produced by the Booktrack service? Should I develop links to videos or background about my characters, the novel’s setting, or the technology it depicts? My current position is that I will ignore creating such content. I will concentrate solely on making the written story as compelling and rich as possible. If the publisher wants multimedia for the e-book version, a rather intense negotiation will ensue.

On the other hand, the Mysterious Baby nonfiction book might represent a stronger case for such multimedia. For example, parents might be greatly relieved by seeing video of a newborn in the throes of  harmless-but-scary involuntary jitters called benign myoclonus. It’s no more dangerous than hiccups, and seeing such a video might make it less likely that parents will rush their jittery baby to the emergency room.

But in writing this nonfiction book, I will also ignore the eventuality that it may become a multimedia e-book. Given the cost of such productions, the doubtful profitability of multimedia e-books, and the turmoil of constantly evolving e-book formats and readers, for now I’ll concentrate on writing, thank you very much.

Use QR Codes to “Amplify” Your Work

3 04 2012

Explaining Research web site

QR codes have become ubiquitous enough that they’re now a useful way to “amplify” your work. These two-dimensional bar codes—looking like crossword puzzles for masochists—enable audiences to scan the code with their smartphone or camera-equipped tablet to gain access to information or trigger actions. For example, scanning the QR code on this post will link you to the Explaining Research web site.

QR codes, short for “Quick Response codes,” were developed in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary to allow data to be decoded at high speed. But the company decided not to enforce its patent, so the codes have come to be used around the world.

As detailed below, producing the codes is both free and easy, and when scanned by a smartphone, the code can open a text document, web site, video, e-mail address,  phone number, digital business card (e.g. a vCard), map page, WiFi connection, or event announcement. For a full list of examples see the code generator on the Kerem Erkan QR generator. Just click on the “Select a Code Action” dropdown list.

A generated code is basically an image file that can be printed or displayed on a screen. It can have a multitude of uses, including being displayed

  • on a research poster to offer a paper download or web site access
  • on a scientific paper to give access to raw data or background
  • on a brochure, magazine article, or business card to giver readers more information
  • on an office or lab door to give visitors information on research by the occupants, or even a video welcome
  • as a series of codes throughout a lab or other facility to create a virtual text or video  tour
  • attached to lab instruments or other machines to give instant access to operating manuals or other information
  • printed on t-shirts to introduce the wearer’s work to fellow conference attendees or the public (Both Cafe Press and Zazzle offer such shirts. QR codes can even be printed on chocolates!)
  • on an event poster to enable potential attendees to download details of the event
  • as the final slide in a presentation to offer access to the slides or more information

For educators, here’s another creative collection of 46 Interesting Ways to Use QR Codes to Support Learning.

Generating a QR code only requires entering the web URL or other text into one of the code generators listed below and right-clicking to save the resulting graphic image to your computer. There are, however, some issues to consider: For example, if you want to change the web site that the same QR code accesses, you’ll want a generator such as Delivr or Snap,vu that enable such editing. You might also want to track how many times the QR code was used, so you might want to use more feature-rich generators like Delivr,, or Qreate & Track.

Also, the URL or other text entered into a code generator needs to be relatively short. The longer the text string, the smaller the squares in the code, and the more likely are errors when users attempt to scan it. So, you might want to use a URL shortener such as bitly or to shorten your URL (instructions below). However, such services have a downside in that they might be “glitchy.” So, try to use URLs hosted on your own domain. Some other tips:

  • Surround your code with plenty of white space when printing or displaying.
  • Label the code’s content by putting your name or other information above or below the code.
  • Color codes are possible, but make sure the colors contrast with one another.

Dawn Wentzell of the AuthorityLabs blog has a good set of  tips on using QR codes in her post Using QR Codes? You’re Probably doing it Wrong. Perhaps the most important was to understand that people are scanning your code using mobile devices that may not display a full-fledged web site properly. So, consider developing a fast-loading mobile-friendly site for them. Other tips include not using glossy paper for codes and not using Flash, Javascript or HTML5, which some smartphones can’t handle.

Here’s a list of code generators:

  • Bitly To produce QR code, first shorten the URL with bitly, then add .qr to the end of the shortened URL and use the link. The image of the QR code will appear on the screen.
  • Delivr
  • To produce code, enter URL to shorten, then click on “details” when the shortened URL appears to see the QR code.
  • Associated with Zazzle. Offers an easy way to apply codes to t-shirts,coffee cups, etc.
  • Jumpscan enables creation of personal profile pages, for example for business cards.
  • Kaywa
  • Qreate & Track
  • QRstuff generates color codes, as well as wide variety of code types
  • Quikqr
  • Shopify
  • SnapMaze
  • TagMyDoc adds QR codes to documents to enable sharing
  • Zxing

Finally, as easy as QR codes are to use, they might not be the last word in information-sharing. Newly introduced Touchcode doesn’t need a camera or a special code to distribute information. It’s an invisible electronic code printed on paper, cardboard, film or labels. Touch a smartphone or other touch screen to the print, and it reads the data.